Remember the victims of Charlie Hebdo

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”114664″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”right”][vc_column_text]Frédéric Boisseau
Franck Brinsolaro
Jean Cabut
Elsa Cayat
Stéphane Charbonnier
Philippe Honoré
Bernard Maris
Ahmed Merabet
Mustapha Ourrad
Michel Renaud
Bernard Verlhac
Georges Wolinski

These people were brutally murdered on 7th January 2015.  Their “crime” was to work for the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo.

Whatever your views on the content of the magazine, on their cartoons, their editorial line and their publication of an image of the Prophet Mohammed, the reality is that these people were massacred because of a cartoon. They didn’t threaten anyone. They just went to work on a normal day and were never to return to their families.

This week a terror trial has commenced in France. Fourteen people are charged with being accomplices to the terrorists who murdered 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, injured a further 11 people and then two days later murdered four people at a Jewish supermarket.

These were acts of terror. Designed to silence and scare. They were attacks on free expression and on freedom of religious belief. They were a hate crime. And even worse they led to more hate, more fear and more abuse towards the French Muslim community.

Index won’t publish the names of the perpetrators. These people sought to divide their country. They sought to sow the seeds of hate and distrust. They are not worthy of our time or consideration.

Today we remember the victims, the survivors and their friends and families. There is nothing more to say.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Cartoonists being silenced during Covid, report shows

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”114537″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Cartoonists are “the canaries in the coal mine” when it comes to media freedom. That, at least, is the view of multiple award-nominated Belgian cartoonist Steven Degryse, better known to his readers as Lectrr.

If so there is certainly something wrong in the mine. According to the Cartoonists Rights Network International, there have been more than twice the number of attacks against cartoonists between the months of March and May this year than there normally are, and the reason? It is a dangerous combination of restrictive legislation enacted because of the Covid pandemic, the rise of authoritarianism, frayed tempers, and offended individuals with powerful platforms. 

Early on in the crisis, Lectrr’s cartoon of a Chinese flag with biohazard symbols instead of stars drew sharp criticism.

“I started to receive a lot of hate mail on my social media, most of it in Chinese, and a lot by fake accounts and manufactured texts. After a while I also received a death threat by one of the accounts,” said Lectrr.

While he did not feel pressured by the negative reactions, not all cartoonists share this sentiment. Australian cartoonist Badiucao received a death threat from a Twitter user following the publication of his Wuhan Diary; likewise, Mahmoud Abbas and his family’s location was shared on social media following the publication of his oil crisis cartoon that sparked a smear campaign against him as well as death threats.

Terry Anderson, executive director of Cartoonists Rights Network International, says that in countries where democracy is weak or entirely absent, legislation that is said to be in the name of monitoring false information about coronavirus is “actually being used to detain critics who…aren’t pleased with how the situation is being handled in their country”. Anderson said, “Authoritarianism, isolationism, and exceptionalism are pretexts by those who have an inclination to curtail freedoms…under the auspices of protecting public health, protecting from misinformation and disinformation, from fake news, and so on.”

Lectrr said there has been a rise in both violence and legislation that prohibits criticism of the government, or that the government deems seditious in countries “where we see the rise of autocratic leaders…[like] Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban, and Francken who constantly bash or criminalize journalists and cartoonists with their followers”. 

This is something that the Index on Censorship has been acutely aware of. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been more than 200 violations of media freedom which we have reported on an interactive map, in conjunction with our partners at  Justice for Journalists Foundation

For example, Brazilian president Bolsonaro suspended the deadline for when his government must respond to a request for access to information in an attempt to prevent the public from accessing government records; a study in Hungary found that public information on the coronavirus pandemic has been centralised and restricted in an attempt to control the pandemic’s narrative; and in the United States, the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and NYU Langone Health has ordered faculty doctors not to speak with reporters about Covid-19 without express approval from the Office of Communications and Marketing under threat of termination. These legislative and regulatory attacks on media freedom have affected journalists and cartoonists by preventing their access to pertinent information, and therefore curtailing criticism of respective governments. However, government regulation of media is not the only type of violence that cartoonists have had to endure. 

With billions of people around the world in lockdown, media content has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind. People are constantly on the news—newspapers, social media, televised reports—and right along with the daily news is a critical cartoon.

Anderson said, “Because so many things in their common life are gone, people are consuming information in a much higher quantity, so when a news story breaks, everyone is paying attention. If there’s a cartoon that pisses people off, it’s going to piss off far more people far more quickly.”

Lectrr’s cartoon was one of many that upset powerful people.

In the early months of 2020, “there was a rash of diplomats specifying cartoons that they took umbrage with…when a diplomat, somebody with an enormous platform and prestige singles out an individual practitioner, it’s an open invitation to harassment,” said Anderson. “The majority are state actors: governments, police forces, and military.” 

When cartoonists, who are often freelance artists, are targeted by someone as powerful as a diplomat, they become the eye of public dissent, and as a result, become victims of smear campaigns, death threats, and, in some cases, violent, physical attacks.

Usually, a cartoonist or journalist can be silenced in the EU with the “brutal intimidation…of lawyers. Cartoonists and journalists often don’t have the means to go into lengthy trials, so even when they are right…they often don’t stand a chance against powerful enemies,” according to Lectrr.

These kinds of defamation cases run “dry the resources of cartoonists,” he continued, but in the age of the coronavirus, the most effective way to silence a cartoonist seems to be by putting them in the centre of a storm of loyal, angry, low-patience supporters, bypassing the need to spend money on a trial, and instead using a sea of threats to intimidate and silence cartoonists. 

This Covid-inspired attack on cartoonists has led some media outlets to conclude that cartoons and cartoonists are a problem, Anderson stated.

“It’s a strange thing, just five years after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, to see so many places saying, ‘yeah, we’ll just do without—we won’t have cartoons.’”

Although a world without cartoons feels more imminent now during the clash of authoritarian leaders and a deadly virus, Lectrr warns that “where cartoonism [sic] is in decline, so is freedom of speech, or even democracy.”

What happens to a society when freedom of speech is regulated, or worse, eradicated, by governments? And how close are we to that edge?

Read more about Index on Censorship’s mapping media freedom during Covid-19 project[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You might also enjoy reading” category_id=”40456″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

“You can ban my cartoons, but you cannot ban my mind”

Gagged exhibition

Stall at the Gagged exhibition, showcasing political cartoonists’ work

“This is a key to realms of wonder, but it’s also a deadly weapon, a weapon of mass distraction,” UK cartoonist Martin Rowson said, describing a pen, as he opened a discussion about censorship and repression of political cartoonists.

The event had planned a video link-up with Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, the Malaysian cartoonist better known as Zunar, but he was unable to attend. There have been reports of his arrest. Zunar uses his art to take a stand against corruption in Malaysian politics. The cartoonist is facing 10 sedition charges which are still pending trial. On these charges, Zunar faces 43 years in prison.

In his absence, a video of the cartoonist was shown in which he states, “you can ban my books, you can ban my cartoons, but you cannot ban my mind”.  

The Westminster Reference Library hosted a discussion on 28 November, during an exhibition of political cartoons: Gagged. Speakers included Index on Censorship’s Jodie Ginsberg, UK cartoonist Martin Rowson, Sudanese cartoonist Khalid Albaih, and Cartoonist Rights Network International’s Robert Russell.

Cartoonist Rowson and Albaih, currently based in Copenhagen, expressed the responsibility they feel working from a safe environment. They acknowledged the oppression of their colleagues and cited them as inspiration for the cartoons they continue to publish.

“I feel so guilty that I’m here doing this but at the same time, I have a lot of friends who are in jail, who were arrested, and who are really fighting that fight to say what they want to say … It’s something that hurts me everyday”, Albaih said. “Everyday that I’m walking down Copenhagen. It’s a beautiful city but I can’t enjoy it because most of my friends can’t even get a visa to go to the country next to them … People like Zunar, they’re incredible and they’re powerful and I look up to them. And I hope one day I can go back to my country and be able to do that without being scared that something will happen to my kids, you know?”

Ginsberg spoke on the importance of freedom of expression in the face of adversity and the reality of censorship in countries that believe they have “free speech”. “Censorship isn’t something that happens ‘over there’. It happens here and it happens on our doorstep.”

“I genuinely believe that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I also think … that many pens and many voices are even better. Oppressors win when they think their opponents are alone,” Ginsberg said. “We succeed when we demonstrate that it’s not the case.”

**The exhibition has now been extended to 7 December.

Malaysian cartoonist Zunar says “I will keep drawing until the last drop of my ink”

Index on Censorship commissioned cartoonists to give their take on free expression in the past 12 months. Zunar submitted the above.

In March, Index on Censorship commissioned cartoonists to give their take on free expression in the past 12 months. Zunar submitted the above.

Malaysian political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque “Zunar” was charged with nine counts of sedition for tweets posted following a controversial court ruling. He could be sentenced to 43 years in prison if convicted. He pleaded not guilty. His bail was set at 13,500 RM (£2500.21).

Zunar had reported on 1 April that he has been told that he will be charged under the country’s sedition act.

“My lawyer had just informed me that the police had served a notice to charge me to court under the sedition act over my tweet posting dated 10 of February 2015 on Anwar Ibrahim ruling,” Zunar wrote in a statement ahead of the 3 April court date.

The cartoonist has been repeatedly targeted for his editorial cartoons that critique the Malaysian government, which has banned much of Zunar’s work and repeatedly subjected him to raids, arrest and detainment.

One of the tweets included a cartoon criticising Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s involvement in Ibrahim’s case. That case saw the country’s political opposition leader sentenced to five years for sodomising a former employee. Ibrahim says that the charges are politically motivated.

According to Zunar, the charge he expects on 3 April would be under section 4(1) C of the sedition act, carrying a maximum penalty of three years in prison, a £918 fine, or both. After he posted the tweet in February, he was arrested and detained for three days. During the detention, the police also opened up separate investigation on his cartoon books Pirate of Carry BN and Conspiracy to Imprison Anwar.

Zunar said that he has been advised by his lawyer not to comment about the case in detail.

“I would like to reiterate that the use of sedition act will not silence me. I will keep exposing the corruptions and wrong-doings of the government,” Zunar wrote.

“Index calls on Malaysia to drop these latest charges against Zunar, which are a blatant attempt to stifle free expression and dissent in the country,” Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg said.

Zunar has been subject to official harassment for his work taking corruption to task.

On 28 January, Zunar’s office was raided while he was on speaking tour in London. Authorities confiscated more than 150 books. That raid was made under printing presses and publications act, the sedition act and the Malaysian penal code.

In earlier raids on his office more than 500 copies of Zunar’s books were confiscated in two separate raids to his office by the authorities. Authorities also targeted printers, vendors and bookstores around the country and their owners were warned not to print or sell Zunar’s books.

On 6 November 2014, three of his assistants were arrested and taken to the police station for selling his latest cartoon books. A few days later, the webmaster for Zunar’s website and online bookstore was called for questioning by the police under the sedition act.

The police have asked the online payment gateway that handles his book transactions to disclose the list of customers who have purchased his books through official website,, according to Zunar’s statement.

On 20 November, Zunar was questioned at by Kuala Lumpur police from the classified crime section. That investigation was triggered by two complaints lodged against him.

This is Zunar’s second investigation under the sedition act for cartooning — the first was in September 2010, when he was arrested and detained for two days. In addition, five of his books — Perak Darul Kartun, 1 Funny Malaysia, Isu Dalam Kartun Vol. 1, 2 and 3 — were banned by the Malaysian home minister from 2009 to 2010.

In 2011, Zunar was conferred Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award by the Cartoonist Rights Network International

In his statement, Zunar pledged that his work against corruption will continue.

“The ‘Fight Through cartoons’ will carry on with more fire. I will keep drawing until the last drop of my ink.”

This post was published at on 1 April, 2015