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.
Al-Monitor also reports that in March, cartoonist Khudair al-Humairi was taken to court over a cartoon criticizing Iraq’s Ministry of Planning.
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.”