7 cartoonists who have faced violence and threats for their work

The World

When it comes to lampooning political leaders and world religions, Charlie Hebdo cartoonists pull no punches.

On Wednesday four artists at the weekly satirical magazine paid the highest price for their work. Stephane Charbonnier, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Verlhac, and Jean Cabut were among 10 employees shot dead at the publication’s offices in Paris. Two police officers were also killed.

As French police conduct a massive manhunt for the suspected gunmen, tens of thousands of people, many holding pens, have taken to the streets across the country to pay their respects to the victims — and show their defiance to what has been described as an attack on freedom of speech. 

Sadly, it is not the first time cartoonists have been threatened, assaulted or even killed for using their pen to criticize and poke fun at political and religious figures.

Here are a few cartoonists who have faced threats for their work: 

Ali Ferzat 

In August 2011 Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat was abducted from the streets of Damascus and brutally beaten by pro-Bashar al Assad militiamen, who smashed the cartoonist’s hands. The attack came after Ferzat, who no longer lives in Syria, drew a cartoon criticizing Assad.

Naji al Ali

Palestinian cartoonist Naji al Ali, one of the most popular cartoonists in the Middle East, was shot outside his office in London on July 22, 1987, and later died in hospital. Ali, whose work was characterized by the image of young boy called Handala, was highly critical of Arab politicians, including the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He had moved to London after being expelled from Kuwait over his work. 

Kurt Westergaard

In September 2005 Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard was one of 12 artists commissioned by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten to depict the Prophet Muhammad. Westergaard’s drawing of a bearded man with a bomb in his turban — together with the other images — sparked outage among Muslims and triggered protests across the Middle East. After the publication of the caricatures, Westergaard received death threats and was the target of a murder plot. On January 1, 2010, a Somali Muslim man armed with an axe and knife broke into Westergaard’s home and threatened to kill him. The man was shot and wounded by police. 

Doaa el Adl

Oppression doesn’t always involve physical violence. Celebrated Egyptian cartoonist Doaa el Adl, whose controversial work touching on sensitive subjects such as women’s rights and politics has drawn the ire of Egyptian authorities, was charged with blasphemy in 2012 after she depicted an Egyptian man with angel wings and a halo above his head talking to Adam and Eve about the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Mario Robles

Mexican cartoonist Mario Robles was physically attacked in April 2009 by members of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party after drawing a cartoon criticizing the then governor of the southern Pacific coast state of Oaxaca for a violent police crackdown on a teachers’ demonstration in 2005. Cartoonists Rights Network International later presented Robles with the Award in Courage for Editorial Cartoons for pursing his work despite political oppression. 

Lars Vilks 

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks almost paid the ultimate price for his 2007 cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a dog. Vilks was the target of a 2009 murder plot involving American woman Colleen LaRose, who called herself “Jihad Jane.” LaRose was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in jail. In a separate case, a Swedish court in 2012 acquitted three men accused of plotting to kill Vilks. The cartoonist has also been physically attacked, his home hit by arsonists and his website hacked over the caricature. 

Jonathan Shapiro 

South African cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, better known as Zapiro, has been a persistent thorn in the side of South African politicians. Shapiro has been particularly critical of the current president, Jacob Zuma. In 2008, during his rise to power, Zuma sued the cartoonist over a drawing depicting the leader, who was cleared of a rape charge in 2006, preparing to sexually assault “Lady Justice.”  Zuma withdrew the lawsuit in October 2012. 

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