"The terrible massacre underlines the urgency and importance of the work Paris and all the other ICORN member cities are doing for freedom of expression and protection of writers and artists at risk", says ICORN director Helge Lunde. "Mana Neyestani was Paris’ first ICORN guest writer, and together with his ICORN cartoonist colleagues, he uses the opportunity both to honor the slain heroes from the Charlie Hebdo office, and to maintain the creative fight for freedom of press and expression".
Mana Neyestani arrived in Paris in February 2011, and still lives there. Mana Neyestani was born in Tehran in 1973, and trained as an architect before beginning his career in 1990 as a cartoonist and illustrator for several cultural, literary, economic and political magazines. With the rise of Iranian reformist newspapers in 1999 he became an editorial cartoonist, and in 2000 he published his first adult comic book, "Kaaboos" (Nightmare), the first in Iran to be published without government support. The hero of the book, Mr. Ka, is also the main character in "The Ghost House" (2001) and "Mr. Ka's Love Puzzle" (2004).
Sidelined as a political cartoonist, Neyestani was forced to do childrens cartoons, one of which in 2006 led to his imprisonment and flight from the country. From 2007 until his arrival in Paris, he lived in exile in Malaysia, doing cartoons for dissident Iranian websites worldwide. In the wake of the fraudulent election of 2009, his work has become an icon of defiance to the Iranian people. Neyestani has won numerous Iranian and international awards, most recently the 2010 CRNI Award for Courage.
Arifur Rahman was ICORN's first cartoonist and Drøbak City of Refuge's first guest writer. Rahman advocates against social injustice and corruption in Bangladesh and was imprisoned and serisously threatened by extremist islamists in 2007 after a newspaper had published one of his cartoons. The cartoon depicted a cat named Muhammad and was not meant as an insult to the Prophet. Arifur has continued his work since arriving in Norway.
Fadi Abdou Hassan
Palestinian cartoonist Fadi Abou Hassan was forced to flee his home in Syria because of his political cartoons critical of the Syrian Regime. He arrived in his safe haven in Drøbak City of Refuge in September 2013, after living as a refugee in Syria until the uprising in 2011.
Fadi Abou Hassan is a widely published and award-winning freelance cartoonist, known for his many cartoons commenting on the everyday life and political events in Syria and the Middle East. His cartoons focus on the themes of human rights, women’s rights, and political violence taking place in the country. Fadi Abou Hassan was arrested already in 2009 and was detained under Emergency legislation for 80 days where he was tortured and otherwise ill-treated because of cartoons he published.
As the situation of cartoonists in Syria severely worsened following the rebellion of 2011, Abou Hassan was summoned to the Military Intelligence in Damascus on several occasions where he was threatened and banned from travelling. The direct reasons for the summoning were his cartoons depicting Assad and his forces, as well as other events related to the Syrian popular protests and ensuing conflict.
Many other cartoonists have been subject to attack by the Syrian forces including well-known cartoonist Ali Farzat whose fingers were broken during an assault. Akram Razlan, cartoonist and friend of Abou Hassan, was arrested and faced trial for his criticism of the authorities. It is unknown if he is alive or not. He is charged with ‘disrespecting the leader, being in league with the rebels, and working against the interests of the state’.
Fearing further and lengthy arrest and persecution, Fadi Abou Hassan fled Syria illegally in late 2012, and has continued his work for political change and freedom of expression while in exile. His cartoons have been published in various print and online outlets, including Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Alroya (Muscat), Al-Seyassah (Kuwait), Aljazeera.net and Anoual.net (Amsterdam). He also publishes his cartoons online, on the Dutch webpage Cartoon Movement.