The investigation into the disappearance of cartoonist/columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda continues to build steam in Sri Lanka, with 11 people — soldiers, former soldiers and military informers — now detained and being questioned, according to reports out of Colombo. Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared more than five years ago. At the time, he was working on a story about government-sanctioned deployment of cluster bombs against the secessionist Tamil Tigers, colleagues of the journalist told the Reuters news agency. Prageeth’s wife Sandya Eknaligoda accused government agents of abducting her husband when he left his office on January 10, 2010, and has waged a long campaign for a full inquiry. The present government of President Maithripala Sirisena has promised to pursue the matter and to investigate other abuses of power allowed under previous president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Meanwhile, Prageeth Eknaligoda’s former news outlet, LankaeNews, has reported that there is a behind-the-scenes campaign funded by former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to undermine the inquiry into Prageeth’s fate. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has been implicated in the white-van abductions of government critics during his brother Mahinda’s presidency. [More]
Thai Cartoonist Sia Warned by Military’s National Council of Peace and Order About “Damaging” Cartoons
Thai political cartoonist Sakda Sae Iao was summoned to a meeting with his government’s National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) a day after publishing a cartoon contrasting Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s lip-service at the UN in support of civil rights with the continued suppression of free speech at home. Sakda, who signs his cartoons “Sia,” is a cartoonist for the Bangkok-based daily newspaper Thai Rath. His cartoons have been critical of General Prayut’s 2014 military coup, and of Prime Minister Prayut’s post-coup government.
After the meeting with the NCPO at army headquarters, Sakda told reporters: “They [the NCPO] said if my new cartoons cause damage, I should be prepared for lawsuits.” Sakda was previously cautioned about his cartoons by government agents in 2014, shortly after the coup.
Cartoonist Sakda said: “I represent things in accordance with the facts. The issues that I put in the cartoons are from daily news. I didn’t just imagine them. I did put in some of my opinions, because writing cartoons is similar to being a columnist. It’s about provoking thought with your writing.” But Sakda acknowledged that the government’s threat of costly litigation aimed at “damaging” cartoons could put pressures on his newspaper, saying: “I may need to reduce my contribution as this may affect the organisation. It would have been alright if this affected me only.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) representative for Southeast Asia, Shawn Crispin, said: “Sakda Sae Iao’s editorial portraits have dared to speak truth to power in Thailand’s highly repressed media environment. The Thai junta’s claim to a monopoly on truth is as farcical as its claim to legitimacy. Sakda should be allowed to continue drawing his critical portraits without fear of reprisal.” [More]
Zunar presented International Press Freedom Award, named Amnesty International rights advocate — while Malaysian authorities continue to harass him at home
Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar, who in September was named a winner of the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, reports that government agents are moving to effectively ban his latest book.
Zunar writes: “A sales assistant who operates online sales of my latest book ‘Sapuman – Man of Steal‘ on the website zunar.my has been called for a police investigation in Dang Wangi, next Monday 5th October 2015 at 12 noon under the Sedition Act. Sapuman is my 18th cartoon book. Previously, seven of my books were banned by the government and confiscated by the police. . .
“I strongly condemn this latest police tactics to frighten people from getting access to read and buy my books. My sales assistant did nothing illegal as the ‘Sapuman – Man of Steal‘ is not officially banned by the government.”
Zunar (Zulkiflee Sm Anwar Ulhaque) is the first cartoonist ever awarded the CPJ International Press Freedom Award. Zunar was also asked in October to join Amnesty International’s 2015 Write For Rights (#W4R) campaign.
“Through the #W4R campaign, members and supporters of Amnesty International will show solidarity and give support to those whose rights are being suppressed by governments,” AI Malaysia executive director Darshni Shahmini said. “We are very proud to be able to work with Zunar in this global campaign where we have some seven million Amnesty activists and a wide community of supporters who will draw international attention to the state of freedom of expression in Malaysia.”
Zunar was awarded CRNI’s Courage in Editorial Cartooning award in 2011. He was recipient of the Human Rights Watch Hellman-Hammett Award for his courage in promoting and defending free speech in 2011 and 2015.
Zunar is currently charged with 9 counts of sedition for tweets made following a controversial court decision earlier this year. If convicted, the charges could result in a 43 year prison sentence. [More]
Murals in London and New York Call for the Release of Atena Farghadani as the Jailed Artist Goes on Hunger Strike
The advocacy group Journalism Is Not A Crime has commissioned murals in London and New York pushing for the release of Iranian artist/activist Atena Farghadani. The four-story New York mural — which depicts Ms. Farghadani with her mouth missing — is in place to greet the arrival of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani for a United Nations summit meeting beginning on September 25th. The murals compliment the ongoing cartoon protest, #Draw4Atena, launched by journalist/cartoonist Michael Cavna. Amnesty International has declared Ms. Farghadani a prisoner of conscience and is petitioning for her release. Cartoonists Rights Network has issued an open letter to President Rouhani and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, demanding the same.
Atena Farghadani was handed a 12 year, nine month, prison sentence for posting a cartoon critical of legislation that would curtail the reproductive rights of Iranian women, and for going public about her mistreatment by prison guards. Ms. Farghadani was presented, in absentia, with CRNI’s 2015 Courage in Editorial Cartooning award, to the enthusiatic applause of an audience of international cartoonists, in Columbus, Ohio, on September 10th.
The non-profit group International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that Ms. Farghadani went on a hunger strike on September 10th to protest defamation and verbal abuse from guards. Following a prison visit, Atena’s mother, Eshrat Ardestani, is quoted saying: “Atena was looking really bad when we visited her on September 13, 2015. She could barely walk and could not stand on her feet … On the fourth day [of her hunger strike] her blood pressure had dropped so low that they had to take her to the clinic on [a makeshift stretcher made of] a sheet.” [Story]
Damascus News Service Reports Cartoonist Akram Raslan Is Dead
Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan, who was taken into custody by agents of the government of Bashir al-Assad at the Al-Fida newspaper offices in the city of Hama in October, 2012, has been reported dead by the Damascus-based news service Souriatna.
Based on testimony attributed to fellow prisoner F.Y., Akram Raslan died in a jail hospital sometime in the spring of 2013, his frail condition possibly a result of torture.
Palestinian cartoonist Fadi Abou Hassan, who knew and worked with Akram Raslan in Syria, told Cartoon Movement that his friend was one of the bravest cartoonists in the country. “His works were known for being very direct in opposing the Syrian regime and its head. He was publishing from Syria through Arabic journals and websites, he stood by the Syrian revolution since the very first day, Raslan drew more than 300 cartoons that accompanied the early developments of the Syrian revolution.”
Akram Raslan was given, in absentia, CRNI’s Courage in Editorial Cartooning award in 2013. At that time, cartoonist Joel Pett said: “CRNI gives Akram Raslan our annual Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning in recognition of his extraordinary courage in confronting the forces of violence with cartoons that told only the truth.”
Akram Raslan was born in Souran, in northern Syria, in 1978. [More]
An article by Omar al-Jaffal for the online journal Al-Monitor has shone a light on the dire situation of some of Iraq’s political cartoonists. Ahmed Falah — several of whose cartoons were brandished in poster form at a recent Bhagdad protest — told the writer “It is weird how my caricatures are used during protests, while none of the country’s newspapers have published any of them. This proves that the freedom of the media in the country is a big lie. Falah, producing cartoons that target corrupt politicians and clergy alike, left Iraq in 2014 following death threats stemming from his work. “I decided to flee Baghdad to Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta for a short period of time, until the militia forgot about me,” Fallah told Al-Monitor. “Yet I could not remain silent for long. The political situation is getting worse in Iraq and keeping silent about the ruling parties is a disgrace in my eyes.” In February of the same year, cartoonist Ahmed al-Rubaie left Bagdhad after his newspaper’s offices were bombed in reaction to a caricature he did of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Al-Rubaie died in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, of respiratory problems one month later. Iraq’s Press Freedom Advocacy Association linked al-Rubiae’s death to his forced exile, and has demanded a government investigation.
For Ahmed Falah, the move to Jakarta has not ended the death threats. “Following the recent cartoons and after they became widespread in the community,” he told reporter Omar al-Jaffal, “I started receiving threats on my Facebook page and in emails.”
Writes al-Jaffal: Yet Fallah seemed determined to continue to draw. “We should invest in these protests so that we are granted our full freedom — our freedom of expression and our [right] to live decently,” he said, adding, “I am not offending anyone. I am just expressing the irony in the community, peacefully.” [More]