In Algeria, political cartoonists turn to social media to protest repression
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Since the beginning of the popular protest movement in Algeria, press cartoonists have supported it by publishing their satirical images on social networks. But after the conviction of one of their own and the election of Abdelmadjid Tebboune as president, they fear increased repression.
Tebboune is the "chosen one". Sitting on his red velvet throne, his legs crossed, the 74-year-old is surrounded by his rivals for the Algerian presidency. Kneeling in front of him, the Army Chief of Staff, Ahmed Gaïd Salah, is putting a golden slipper on Tebboune’s outstretched foot. All of this is under a benevolent gaze from a statue of Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
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This Cinderella-inspired scene was created by the cartoonist Abdelhamid Amine - alias Nime - at the beginning of November, a few weeks before the election that propelled Tebboune to the presidency.
It was a result of this drawing in particular that Nime is in prison today. The Algerian cartoonist was given a one-year sentence on December 11, which included three months' imprisonment.
According to the National Committee for the Release of Prisoners (CNLD), the public prosecutor’s office in the port city of Oran had asked that Nime be sentenced to 18 months in prison for violating army morale and territorial integrity with his latest drawings published on Instagram.
"This decision represents a flagrant violation of freedom of expression and is part of the recent wave of arrests in recent weeks," said Cartooning for Peace, a global network of committed cartoonists.
Artists and journalists arrested
According to the CNLD, more than 140 demonstrators, activists, artists and journalists have been arrested since June in Algeria and there is an increasing repression against the ‘Hirak’, the popular protest movement that led to Bouteflika's resignation last April.
“There is a real climate of intimidation,” confirms Meriem Amellal, a journalist from France 24, a specialist on Algeria.
“The state media has not covered the ‘Hirak’ for weeks. YouTubers have been arrested for posting a photo on social networks. Freedom of expression has reached a new low point in Algeria," she said.
The Algerian authorities refused to issue visas and accreditations to France 24 correspondents to cover the presidential election.
From repression to self-censorship
"This climate of restricted freedom of expression and Nime's arrest makes us think twice," press cartoonist Karim Bouguemra told France 24. "I still want to draw, but I pay special attention now to the way I express my opinions, I try to remain subtle, to adapt to repression and to avoid confrontation," he admits, acknowledging "a form of self-censorship".
Despite this, the 32-year-old self-taught journalist, who works for the daily newspapers Le Soir d'Algérie and Maracana (sports newspaper), did not hesitate to mock the presidential election in his drawings posted on Instagram.
The last one was on December 14th. Imitating Tex Avery's style, Karim Bouguemra represented the newly elected President Tebboune with the inscription "That's all, Folks".
"We have to be careful. Since the election, repression is expected to intensify," says Bouguemra. His fears are not unjustified. According to RFI journalist Leïla Beratto, arrests have increased, particularly in Oran, since the election.
Bouguemra was nevertheless out protesting on the streets of his hometown of Skidda, in the east of the country, after the announcement of the election results last week. "Demonstration in the street or on paper has become a routine," he explains.
Social networks offer freedom
While newspapers are reluctant to publish controversial cartoons since the beginning of the ‘Hirak’, social networks offer an unbounded space for a new generation of cartoonists. They are renewing the satire genre, which is already well established in Algeria.
In addition to famous names such as Ali Dilem or Slim, there is now also Nime, Karim Bouguemra and Andalusia. The latter is a young cartoonist from the Beaux-Arts d'Alger. He shared his "waltz" of candidates on Instagram, dancing like puppets with extended Pinocchio noses.
Le Hic, a famous cartoonist since the 1980s, also took advantage of internet freedom to publish on December 14 a corrosive portrait of Tebboune announcing: "I will get the country back on track", a mocking allusion to the president's son arrested in June for his involvement in cocaine trafficking.
"The press cartoon is what makes us who we are. We will continue to express ourselves and exploit all the gaps in freedom we have left," says Bouguemra.
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