CRNI has received word from Arifur Rahman, a Bangladeshi cartoonist now based in Norway and the publisher of ToonsMag, saying that pieces of his work were stolen from a public exhibition and that the local officials sought to cover up the incident.
ArtsFreedom have the story that has also been covered extensively by the Amta newpaper in Drøbak, where the incident took place.
According to Rahman an unidentified individual, apparently an asylum seeker, entered the exhibition venue on March 1st, tore down twenty-five cartoons and left with four, saying that the work was “blasphemous”. Rahman was not present at the time and did not hear about it until two days later. He further alleges that he was told not to report the incident as it would jeopardise the outcome of the attacker’s case for asylum in Norway.
The Amta paper too claims to have received notification from officials against reporting the story. In an editorial that ran on March 9th they say:
“In today’s newspaper we try to correct the mistake we committed. This time, you get the whole story, although several have tried to stop both Amta and others from talking loudly about this. The newspaper is not looking for scapegoats. We wish that the municipality should learn from their mistakes.It is important to emphasize that this is done by a person and the event must not lead to judge refugees in general. We guess that this may have been the motive for why the municipal employees handled this matter in a reprehensible manner. They did not want to create xenophobia. We cannot tolerate to have a society where truth is absent and one glosses over to paint a picture that fits into how we want our society to be.”
In 2008 Rahman fled his home after a cartoon also deemed blasphemous led to six months’ imprisonment. After resettling in Norway have has gone on to build an online publishing platform for international cartoonists as well as a major contest, this year themed around Freedom of Expression.
He is quoted as saying:
“I find the religiously motivated theft of my exhibition drawings as a hard blow to the heart. What’s next? Can I continue to be safe here in Drøbak when municipal employees allow the theft to happen without intervening? And why did it go two whole days before I received a phone call after what happened? And that only happened after I had called my friends here in town. [Local authorities] do not understand how I feel. I feel that the event is trivialized and that they ignore my concern. I feel that they care more about this man than about how I feel. It seems as if they are trying to put a lid on the case. They discourage me to report the incident for the sake of their future in this country. Another argument is that it will affect people’s views on all new refugees in the municipality.”
Rahman’s cartoon about the attack on his exhibition, published in the Drøbak local paper.
CRNI’s executive director responds to news of this incident:
“For this to happen in Drøbak is highly disturbing as it is the Safe Haven City for cartoonists in trouble in the ICORN network.
It’s nearly a month later and only recently has the newspaper admitted their mistake in not reporting it. If the municipality’s reluctance to have it reported was because they wanted to protect the attacking refugee’s status, I would warn them to watch this refugee carefully for any violent actions he may take in the future once his refugee status is approved. Had the incident been reported to the proper authorities either by the municipality or the newspaper I’m sure the refugee would’ve found his way back to his home country, and possibly prevent a more violent and horrible situation in Norway sometime in the future.
I am deeply disturbed by this situation, very disturbed that municipal authorities would ignore it, and we are disappointed at the possibly of Drøbak being reconsidered as a safe haven city. Incidents like this can happen anywhere and Drøbak’s local authorities are probably not responsible for it happening, but they are certainly responsible for tolerating it and initiating a cover-up. This was an attack against the Norwegian people. If recent immigrants do not recognize their obligation to learn about and observe the local culture they have sought refuge in, then perhaps Norway is not the destination for them.”
Dr. Robert Russell
Executive Director, CRNI