Editorial cartoons play a principal role in every newspaper and magazine in Iran, providing news, analysis, and satire in visual form. Since the presidential elections in 2009, when Iranian authorities launched an intense crackdown against journalists, civil society activists, and lawyers, many political cartoonists began to leave Iran. Those who stayed have adjusted their work to be more ambiguous, to communicate their message while attempting to evade government censorship and arrests.
This slideshow features seven editorial cartoons about media censorship in Iran by the esteemed cartoonist Touka Neyestani, which have been provided by my organization, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Neyestani publishes a weekly editorial cartoon about current events and human rights in Iran on the Campaign’s website, and his work is featured along with that of six others in the Campaign’s book, Sketches of Iran: A Glimpse from the Front Lines of Human Rights, a collection of editorial cartoons and personal narratives about human rights in Iran. (For more information about the book, please click here or purchase a copy here.)
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The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran supports the Iranian people’s struggle for human rights and amplifies their voices on the international stage. The organization was founded in 2008 and is composed of lawyers, researchers, and journalists with extensive research and advocacy experience in international organizations and publications.
Here is some background on the cartoons featured in the slideshow:
“Pre-Election Crackdown on Journalists“
In the lead-up to the June 2013 presidential elections, restrictions on journalists intensified. Kaleme website reported in late April 2013 that the Intelligence Ministry had summoned a meeting with newspaper editors and warned them not to paint a “black picture” of the regime in the pre-election months, while an intelligence official explicitly forbade any news or analysis of the Supreme Leader.
“Censorship,” from Sketches of Iran
This cartoon depicts a writer or cartoonist ostensibly free to put pen to paper–if he is willing to face the deadly consequences. “Censorship” is featured in Sketches of Iran: A Glimpse from the Front Lines of Human Rights and is accompanied by an essay by Iranian writer and professor Abbas Milani that examines the role of cartoonists in democracy and society. “All despots seem formidable and irremovable, till they fall, and artists and cartoonists play a critical role in expediting the process,” Milani writes.
“First They Came for the Journalists…”
Continuing with the latest crackdown on journalists that began on January 26, 2013, Iranian officials banned three publications in Tehran on March 6 and arrested three journalists that week. Between January 26 and March 6, twenty journalists were arrested in Iran.
“Iranian Journalism Behind Bars“
On Sunday, January 27, 2013, Iranian security forces raided the editorial rooms of Tehran-based newspapers and publications Bahar, Shargh, Arman, Etemad, and Aseman Weekly, and arrested several journalists. According to reports, agents entered the offices of the five publications simultaneously and, in addition to arresting the journalists, searched and videotaped the premises.
“Media and Power,” from Sketches of Iran
Featured in Sketches of Iran: A Glimpse from the Front Lines of Human Rights, “Media and Power” accompanies a firsthand account of interviewing Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 just before the Islamic Revolution. In the piece, journalist Nooshabeh Amiri describes the “heavy, male-dominated atmosphere” of the inner circle, the threats Khomeini made regarding publishing the interview, and the fate that befell the other reporters in the room with her that day.
“Inventing the BBC Connection”
In the last week of January 2013, Iranian security forces arrested at least 16 journalists and charged them with “spying and ties with foreign news organizations.” Iranian authorities are accusing the journalists of working with the Persian-language services of the BBC and Voice of America, based in the U.K. and the U.S., respectively.
Following the publication of a cartoon called “The Blindfolded Men,” Shargh newspaper was banned on September 26, 2012. In a concerted effort by 150 members of Parliament, state authorities, and clerics, the newspaper was banned a day after the cartoon was published; the cartoonist, Hadi Heidari, was summoned to court; and the newspaper’s manager and license holder, Mehdi Rahmanian, was transferred to Evin Prison.
Here is some background on the cartoonist:
Born in 1960, Touka Neyestani received his degree in architecture from Tehran’s Science and Industry University. Neyestani started collaborating with the press in 1980, working with the prestigious Ketab Jomeh weekly, and went on to work with more than 60 publications during his successful career as a cartoonist. He has had more than 30 years of hands-on experience in cartoon drawing and teaching. Between 2006 and 2010, Touka Neyestani was a member of the Board of Trustees and a drawing instructor at the Tehran Caricature House. He currently lives in Toronto, Canada, where he works as a freelance cartoonist for Rooz Online and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.