Tunisia: Anonymous political cartoonist under fire

Anonymous renowned Tunisian caricaturist _Z_ is under fire. His bold caricaturist style, no stranger to his fans, has landed him in trouble.

For years, his caricatures mocked Ben Ali’s autocratic and corrupt regime. The regime censored his caricatures, but did not succeed in tracking him down and exposing his identity. In 2009, police arrested blogger Fatma Riahi, and accused her of being behind _Z_.

More than 18 months after the fall of the regime, _Z_ still desires to conceal his identity. His caricatures now target the Islamists of Tunisia. _Z_ knows no boundaries, no red lines. For him anything can be caricatured and ridiculed. Something, many in Tunisia will not like, especially when it comes to what they consider as “sacred”, and “immoral”.

On 18 May, Facebook removed two cartoons by _Z_ following complaints the social networking site received. The cartoonist wrote about the decision on his blog the same day:

“Two caricatures published on my Facebook page DEBA Tunisie have just been censored. Each caricature contains little bit of sex, little bit of politics, and little bit of religion. There will always be an orthodox Tunisian who would snivel about them [caricatures] to Zuckerberg. My friends, according to our morality guardians there is inevitably a boundary that should not be crossed when it comes to tackling the Saint Trinity of the three Tunisian taboos: politics, sex, and God”

One of _Z_’s censored caricatures ridicules the members of Tunisia’s constitutional assembly, showing them taking part in various distracting activities during a meeting, apart from actually drafting the country’s constitution. Two MPs are shown having anal sex, and others are shown masturbating, playing chess and gambling. Another shows a lively party where a  “cleric” says: “have sex, enjoy, and have fun. Paradise is down here. Up there is only bla bla bla!”

Some of _Z_’s caricatures also depict god and Prophet Muhammad, considered to be forbidden in Sunni Islam, leading to the launch of a fierce social media campaign against the artist. Tunisian journalist Thameur Mekki, believed by some to be the anonymous artist, has been the target of death threats meant for _Z_.

Both _Z_ and Mekki have denied these allegations. Mekki told Mag14.com that “this is a murder incitement matter” and said he would “lodge a complaint against those who are disseminating lies”.