PEN America condemns arrest of Tunisian cartoonist for mocking the Prime Minister
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(NEW YORK) – PEN America today condemned the arrest of political cartoonist Tawfiq Omrane following the publication of a satirical cartoon mocking Tunisan prime minister, Ahmed Hachani. PEN America calls for Omrane’s charges to be immediately dropped.
Tunisia’s public prosecutor detained Omrane for several hours yesterday before releasing him. According to his lawyer, Omrane risks a year in prison if convicted. He is due to appear before the Tunis 1 Court of First Instance on Monday September 25.
Two controversial cartoons surfaced on social media platforms on August 4th and 7th, just days following Ahmed Hachani’s appointment as the head of government. Omrane’s cartoons highlighted the new occupant of the Kasbah’s Hacahni’s perceived lack of experience and his constrained authority in comparison to Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed.
“Omrane wields satire as a powerful tool for social commentary and to illustrate the demands of his fellow citizens. Omrane’s arbitrary and abusive arrest is indicative of the Tunisian authorities’ pursuit to silence pro-democracy artists, journalists, and activists—a distressing symptom of Kaïs Saïed’s authoritarian shift, threatening artistic freedom and free expression,” said Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) Director Julie Trébault. “We demand that Tawfiq Omrane’s charges be dropped and that he create his art in peace.”
Since the 1980s, Omrane, a member of Cartooning for Peace, has been well-known for his satirical and political cartoons, frequently featured in various independent newspapers. During the 2011 revolution, he regularly published satirical cartoons, notably on his Facebook page. He also illustrated the cover of the book The Tunisian Frankenstein by author Kamel Riahi,- with a caricature of Kaïs Saïed in the guise of the creature imagined by Mary Shelley in the early 19th century. The book was at the heart of a controversy after its withdrawal from the Tunis Book Fair in May 2023.
The arrest takes place amid a concerning decline in individual freedoms and freedom of expression in Tunisia reflected in Tunisia’s rank 121 in Reporters Without Borders 2022 World Press Freedom Index. In September 2022, President Kaïs Saïed passed decree 2022-54 which imposes penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 dinars (approximately 15,800 USD) for those found guilty of intentionally using communication networks and information systems to spread false information or misleading rumors. The decree carries a maximum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment for defamation of a public official. Several journalists have already been charged with “disseminating false information.”
Omrane is due to appear before the Tunis 1 Court of First Instance on Monday September 25. These are the cartoons as provided by Cartooning for Peace:
About the Artists at Risk Connection
The Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) is a project of PEN America dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the networks and organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, please contact ARC.
About PEN America
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.
Dietlind Lerner | [email protected] | +1 310 699 8775