Satire has long existed to excoriate the wicked and overbearing among us. Cartoonists and satirists play a vital role in the struggle for freedom. They use comedy and art to hold the powerful accountable, speak hard truths about dictatorship and ideologies, and visualize what some are too afraid to write. Often, they risk their lives to say what others won't. In the seven-year history of the Oslo Freedom Forum, several of these inspiring and courageous individuals have shared their thoughts, experiences and the impact of their work. OFF is honored to present the following talks in light of the horrific attack on freedom of expression that took place in France this week.
Ali Ferzat The Strength of Satire
Ali Ferzat is a Syrian political cartoonist known for his satirical caricatures. In 1989, he received a death threat from Saddam Hussein, and was banned from traveling to Iraq, Jordan, and Libya, after one of his exhibitions in Paris he included cartoons critical of Hussein and other dictators. Ferzat published his own independent periodical for two years—Al-Dormari—before government censorship forced him to cease production. As the Syrian uprising began in 2011, Ferzat became increasingly critical of the regime and protestors began using his caricatures as symbols on posters and placards. In August 2011, masked gunmen assaulted Ferzat and broke both of his hands and his fingers, in a clear message of intimidation and retaliation for his work. Ferzat recovered from the attack and continues to produce political cartoons. He is the head of the Arab Cartoonists’ Association. In 2013 he was awarded the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.
Flemming Rose Free Speech in a Globalized World
Danish author and journalist Flemming Rose is the foreign editor of the newspaper Jyllands-Posten. In 2005, in an exploration of self-censorship, Rose commissioned a series of cartoons for Jyllands-Posten, including several that depicted the prophet Muhammad. The cartoons sparked great controversy in the Muslim world; demonstrations erupted throughout the Middle East and several Danish embassies were attacked. Jyllands-Posten’s employees faced a large number of death threats, and an attempt was made on the life of the cartoonist behind the most controversial drawing. In 2010, Rose released “Tyranny of Silence,” a book that explores the cartoon crisis and its ramifications from a global perspective. In 2014 this book was published in the United States by the Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute.
Ai Weiwei 2012 Havel Prize Acceptance Speech
Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist and activist known for his installations, sculpture, architecture, photography and outspoken criticism of the Chinese government's abuse of human rights and democracy. As a result of his categorical opposition to censorship and his biting criticism, expressed through satire and parody, Ai was arrested in 2011 on charges of tax evasion; after several months, he was released on bail and ordered to pay back taxes. He is currently prohibited from leaving the country without permission. In 2012 he received the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.
Bassem Youssef 2014 Keynote Address
A cardiac surgeon by training, Egyptian talk show host Bassem Youssef turned to comedy, parody and satire after he was inspired by the Egyptian revolution. After a homemade YouTube newscast garnered more than 5 million views in three months, Youssef was named the host of "Al-Bernameg,” a satirical newscast televised by the independent Egyptian channel ONTV and later by the Capital Broadcast Center (CBC). Youssef’s bold, intelligent and humorous critiques of Egyptian politics quickly became a hit with audiences in the country and garnered more than 40 million viewers. In 2012, Mohamed Morsi’s government pursued charges against Youssef for "insulting the president," "insulting Islam" and "reporting false news." In March 2013, Youssef was briefly detained, released on bail, and fined. CBC suspended the broadcast of “Al-Bernameg” in November 2013. In 2014, Youssef announced that he was ending the program due to the dangerous political climate in Egypt.
Owen Maseko Painting a Massacre
Owen Maseko is a Zimbabwean visual artist known for his hard-hitting paintings and his open defiance of dictator Robert Mugabe. In March 2010, Owen Maseko opened an exhibition containing works of art that depicted the Gukurahundi massacre, the murder of an estimated 20,000 Ndebele civilians carried out by Mugabe’s forces during the 1980s. Maseko was arrested less than 24 hours after the exhibition opened. He was falsely charged with “undermining the authority" of President Mugabe, as well as “causing offence to persons of a particular race or religion." After being held in prison for four days, Maseko was granted bail.
Roar Hagen Human Rights and Creative Expression
Roar Hagen is one of Norway's most celebrated political cartoonists and has worked for Verdens Gang, one of Norway's leading daily newspapers, since 1986. His works often tackle controversial social issues, and mock violent ideologies, world religions and powerful political figures. A member of the Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate in New York City, his works have appeared in Norway's Stortinget and Nasjonalgalleriet, the United Nations, the Budapest National Gallery and the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton, Florida. He was awarded the the International Cariacatura Politica Award, Forte dei Marmi Italia 2004, and the Norwegian Editorial Cartoon of the Year in 1997.
The 2015 Oslo Freedom Forum will take place May 25-27, 2015.