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Cartoonists ‘first victims’ of crackdowns on press

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In a modern world paralyzed and cowed by Islamic violence and leftist oppression, that it should be cartoonists on the front lines of the war is at once poetic and brutal. If we can’t stand with the cartoonist, no one, and I mean no one, will be spared.

The article leaves out the most persecuted cartoonists in the world, those who would dare depict Muhammad.

America once stood as a beacon of this ideal — the First Amendment was one of humankind’s great achievements. No more.

Freedom of speech is the foundation of a free society. Without it, a tyrant can wreak havoc unopposed, while his opponents are silenced.

Cartoonists ‘first victims’ of crackdowns on press

French cartoonist Plantu, a founder of Cartooning for Peace, says his peers are increasingly in danger across the globe (AFP Photo/JOEL SAGET)

Paris (AFP) – Ten countries including Russia, Turkey and India have been condemned for censoring, locking up or threatening cartoonists in a new report published Friday.

The Cartooning for Peace group said cartoonists were increasingly becoming the victims of repressive crackdowns on free speech.

The watchdog’s first annual global report also documents attacks on freedom of expression in Kenya, Venezuela, Egypt, Malaysia, Jordan, Ecuador and Burkina Faso.

Its founder, the French cartoonist Plantu — who set up the group a decade ago with former United Nations chief Kofi Annan — told AFP that his peers were in danger across the globe.

Cartoonists were the canary in the mineshaft, he said, “often the first to be threatened” by authoritarian governments.

“Finally for the last few days we in Europe are worrying about what has been happening in Venezuela,” added Plantu, whose work appears on Page One of the French daily Le Monde.

“For six years we have been trying to defend the cartoonist Rayma,” who was first targeted by Hugo Chavez and has since fled to Florida after being threatened by his successor, President Nicolas Maduro.

The report also highlights the case of Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart, who has been jailed since October with colleagues from the liberal daily Cumhuriyet on accusations of “collusion with a terrorist organisation”.

The newspaper incurred the wrath of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for running a story about a shipment of arms intercepted at the Syrian border, allegedly bound for Islamic extremists.

The report was also highly critical of Malaysia’s Sedition Act, which it said has been used to try to silence journalists.

It said the Malaysian cartoonist Zunar has been subject to nearly a decade of persecution, travel bans and harassment for his work criticising official corruption.

“Whether their cartoons concern politics, the economy, sports or religion, cartoonists are confronted with the same threats as journalists who cover sensitive subjects,” the group said in a statement.

Cartoonists are always on the front line, it said, the victims of “censorship, attacks, imprisonment, exile, disappearances and, in the worst cases, even murder.”

Last week the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders warned that the media has never been as threatened as it is now, undermined by increased surveillance and the rise of authoritarian leaders across the globe.

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