Freedom of expression and access to information for all are among the building blocks of democracy. Cartoonists are among the media professionals exercising their freedom of expression, which is granted to everyone in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Cartoons provide us laughter and information on current topics. However, as they can touch upon burning issues or involve criticism towards countries’ governance or specific persons’ actions, they are not always well received by everyone. Around the world, cartoonists are at risk of facing harassment, threats or violence by taking a stance on social and political issues through their drawings. For instance, some cartoonists have been imprisoned or forced into exile, others have had to flee their home country. The risks cartoonists face are not only limited to themselves but can also affect their families and friends.
Cartooning for Peace, an international association and a network of press cartoonists, seeks to promote fundamental freedoms and freedom of expression through cartoons. With funding from the European Union, in 2019 the association produced a Practical Guide for the Protection of Editorial Cartoonists. It was updated in 2022 with the help of UNESCO Global Media Defence Fund.
The guide is a compilation of advice and information on what to do in case of being threatened. It is also useful from the perspective of risk prevention and anticipation.
“This guidebook is an outstretched hand in a chain of solidarity. It is part of the counter-offensive in the fight for trust and justice, the very thing editorial cartoons fight for," says Patrick Chappatte, cartoonist.
In today’s interconnected world, cartoons are quickly spread from one country to another after their publication. This significantly increases the cartoons’ visibility, while at the same time the amount of criticism the cartoonist face, and even extreme responses, such as threats and violence, are becoming more common.
Pedro X. Molina, a Nicaraguan cartoonist and illustrator calls for solidarity between cartoonists: “Perhaps a colleague is in trouble and you can help them in some way... Do it! You never know when the next person needing help will be you. Because, as we’ve seen in recent times, even the best-known cartoonists are not exempt from being incriminated, threatened, fired, persecuted or even killed.”