by R.C. Harvey
Every year, the Cartoonists Rights Network International recognizes a cartoonist who has shown exemplary courage in the face of unrelenting threats, legal action or other pressure as punishment or disincentive for cartoons that are too powerful for some officials, sects, terrorists or demagogues. This year, CRNI recognized two cartoonists: Syria’s Ali Ferzat and India’s Aseem Trivedi.
Quoting CRNI board member Matt Wuerker in Time’s issue listing the 100 Most Influential People in the World: “Ali Ferzat, 60, spent years drawing insightful cartoons, mostly staying between the prescribed lines of Syria’s state-sanctioned media. But confronted with the regime’s increasing brutality, he embraced the democracy movement and turned his lampoons on President Bashar Assad directly.” For this, thugs were ordered to send Ali a message: they brutally beat him up, intentionally breaking both his hands. After the attack, Ali made a second courageous and potentially life-threatening decision: he decided to make public what the Assad Regime had done to him. The work of this brave and talented artist can be seen online at ali-ferzat.com/ar/comics.html and on Facebook at facebook.com/ali.frzat.
Malaysian cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, aka Zunar, last year’s CRNI courage award winner, accepted for Ferzat, reading the Syrian’s remarks: “I would like to thank the Board of Directors and staff of Cartoonist Rights Network International for this very wonderful award. The other cartoonists who have won this award in the past, and my colleague Aseem Trivedi, who is winning it today with me, are giants in our cartooning world. They are giants in the defense of freedom. It is a badge of accomplishment that I will wear proudly.
“What I have learned through my rather unpleasant experience at the hands of the tyrant and his goons, is a difficult lesson. It’s a lesson about bravery and fear. When confronting power and tyranny, you must deal with your own fear. Fear is what the tyrants promote and breed in order to keep our heads bowed, out mouths closed, and our pens doing everything other than what we should be doing. Our humor and laughter to a tyrant is deadly. Fear and threats are deadly to us. Conquer your fear and you can conquer tyrants. Thank you so much.”
Aseem Trivedi, a young cartoonist from India, like Ali Ferzat, made two courageous decisions. First, in an atmosphere of increasing censorship and repression in the world’s largest democracy, Aseem launched the Cartoons Against Corruption website. In an effort to mobilize his fellow citizens against India’s pervasive political corruption, Aseem filled this site with his anti-corruption cartoons. After being charged with treason and with insulting national symbols, Aseem made his second courageous act. Despite the charges and threats of additional charges, he has taken a leadership role in India’s emerging free speech movement. Joining forces with other free speech activists, Aseem has launched an online freedom of expression campaign called Save Your Voice: A Movement Against Web Censorship.
Susie Cagle accepted for Trivedi.
Update: A month after the AAEC convention, timesofindia.indiatimes.com reported that the state government has decided to drop sedition charges against the Kanpur-based Trivedi. But he will still be charged for dishonoring the national symbols, emblem and parliament. Trivedi may be imprisoned for a term extending to three years maximum or a fine, or both.