Cartoonists in the Crosshairs: 5 Artists Who Did Hard Time for Caricature

An Indian cartoonist heads to jail for mocking corruption. A short list of sentenced satirists.

Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivedi is seen in police custody after his arrest for publishing cartoons criticizing the government. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sedition. That was the charge levied against Indian cartoonist Arseem Trivedi recently after he drew a cartoon of a national emblem that transformed it into an anti-corruption illustration.

The picture altered three lions in the symbol to drooling wolves, and switched the motto “only truth triumphs” to “only corruption triumphs,” the New Zealand news magazine Stuff reports. Trivedi had previously drawn the Indian parliament as a toilet, among other provocative images.

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Before he accepted bail, Trivedi was jailed for 14 days for the cartoons—under the same statute once used to jail Mahatma Gandhi, Stuff writes.

But Trivedi is hardly the only cartoonist—even in recent months—to head to prison for pictures that attack religious or political targets. A freedom of speech issue? Context means a lot, but check out these five cartoonists who fought with a pen, and got hit with a hammer.

A caricature of an Iranian official.

Mahmoud Shokraye—People with a white-knuckle grip on power often don’t like to be seen in cartoon form. Such was the case this May in Iran when cartoonist Shokraye drew this pretty mild-looking caricature of a local parliamentarian dressed as a soccer player. He got 25 lashes for insulting the man. A cartoonist for the British paper that picked up the story, however, then added his own illustration on the matter.

Zunar—Corruption in Malaysia, among other topics, was the subject of an upcoming work by cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque (better known as “Zunar”) that landed him in handcuffs in 2010. Appropriately titled “Cartoon-O-Phobia,” the illustration book was deemed seditious by Malaysian authorities, who confiscated any copies they could find and put Zunar in jail, Human Rights Watch says. A judge later let the artist go, and Zunar sued back, claiming his career had been hurt. He lost.

Khalid Gueddar—The Moroccan cartoonist Gueddar has more than once been in officials’ crosshairs for his illustrations. When an Islamic imam was accussed of soliciting a prostitute in 2011, Gueddar re-ran a comic he’d drawn two years earlier for a similar incident—lingerie being thrown out of a mosque window. This time, however, the drawing was deemed too much. Under a law that makes it illegal to insult Islam, Gueddar was hauled in this July. He was soon released, but will certainly remember being arrested next time he picks up a pen.

A depction of Jesus that got cartoonist Haderer in hot water. 

Gerhard Haderer—Religion is often the basis for charges against cartoonists, but this one took a turn for the bizarre. Haderer, an Austrian illustrator and cartoonist for a popular magazine, published a light-hearted and satiric book about Jesus as a modern, booze-drinking and cannabis-smoking hippie-type. Without the artist even knowing it, the book was published in Greece—after which Greek authorities tried and convicted him in abstentia and sentenced him to six months imprisonment. He eventually won his case on appeal.

Kurt Westergaard—Perhaps the most infamous cartooning of recent years was the 2005 publication of depictions of the prophet Mohammed, a forbidden act in the Muslim religion. Westergaard wasn’t arrested for his work, but the publication infuriated Muslims. Westergaard was immediately inundated with death threats. Various groups plotted to kill the Danish illustrator in retaliation for his irreverence, and people from Ireland to Maryland were arrested for planning to murder him. In 2010, a Somali man broke into Westergaard’s home with an axe in an attempt on his life. The cartoonist fled to a safe room and called police, who wounded the attacker and arrested him.

Cartoonists are often targets of the law and of other subjects of their commentary, but groups are out there to try to protect drawn commentary. Cartoonists for Peace and Reporters Without Borders stay vigilant about cartoonists’ rights and freedom of the press.

When do you think freedom of the press goes too far? Leave your examples or ‘absolutely never’ in COMMENTS.

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