Two European cartoonists threatened over cartoons with religious and political content

Two cartoonists, a Hungarian and a Swede, are targeted by violent online harassment campaigns, because they ridiculed religious and political authorities. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the unacceptable pressures that undermine the right to inform in the heart of Europe.

A cartoon by Gábor Pápai that the daily Népszava published on 28 April showed the Hungarian National Public Health Centre's chief doctor looking at Jesus on the cross and suggesting that many people who had deceased from the coronavirus had already been likely to die because they had suffered with pre-existing conditions.


It was intended to ridicule the chief doctor (who is also a member of the government's "Coronavirus Working Group") for having tried to minimize the number of deaths solely attributable to the coronavirus in Hungary and, by extension, to mock the government's handling of the crisis.


Its use of the figure of Jesus sparked an outcry from the representatives of the Christian Democrat Party, an ally of the ruling Fidesz, to the point that the Secretary of State for persecuted Christian communities, Tristan Azbej, accused Gábor Pápai of blasphemy and threatened to sue him or Népszava.


In the midst of the reactions of other parliamentary supporters of Hungary's very conservative government, the pro-government media launched a campaign of intimidation and harassment against Gábor Pápai, a radio station going so far as to call for the publication of his home address because “there are many who would pay him a visit".


In Sweden, Mahmoud Abbas has been the target of thousands of hostile messages on social networks after posting a cartoon on Facebook on 20 April about the collapse of the oil prices. It showed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman fleeing oil barrels rolling down a steep slope. In Saudi Arabia, criticism of the King and the Crown Prince or their policies is considered as an attack against the image of the Kingdom, its institutions, or its symbols.


The Palestinian origin of Mahmoud Abbas, who cooperates with Al Jazeera TV on a regular basis, has fuelled even more the online criticism and threats from the Saudis. They accused him of being ungrateful because Saudi Arabia had funded numerous assistance programmes in the Palestinian territories. For the cartoonist that represents a lesser evil, though, given the many messages attempting to discredit him and threatening his life. Personal information about him and his family has been also posted online. That has prompted Mahmoud Abbas to file a complaint with the Swedish police. He says he now lives in “constant” fear for himself and his family and no longer dares to open his door or answer all phone calls.


"Unfortunately, it has become more common that foreign state institutions and power groups attack journalists in Sweden," said Erik Halkjaer, the President of RSF Sweden. "This foreign interference, which threatens free speech and the freedom to inform in Sweden, must not be tolerated. The authorities must do everything necessary to ensure that Sweden continues to be a press freedom model in Europe."


Pavol Szalai, the Head of RSF's European Union and Balkans Desk, added: "The notions of blasphemy or attack on a country's image cannot justify an exception to the right to inform. On the contrary, as European Union members, Sweden and Hungary must set an example in the fight against hate campaigns that threaten the safety of cartoonists. Everything must also be done to ensure that they and their families are protected."


Sweden is ranked 4th in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, while Hungary is ranked 89th.

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Updated on 14.05.2020