A World Press Freedom Day Press Release from Dr. Robert Russell


Cartoon courtesy of Zunar from his website ZunarCartoonist.com

Nearly twenty years ago, the United Nations formally recognized just how indispensable an independent and vibrant press is to the rights of each and every one of us by declaring May 3rd World Press Freedom Day.  For me, the co-Founder and Executive Director of the Cartoonists Rights Network International, this day will always hold great significance.  Just over twenty years ago I began to recognize the importance, and the vulnerability, of one particularly conspicuous member of the press – the editorial cartoonist.  A friend, the late Sri Lankan cartoonist Jiffry Yoonoos, opened my eyes by daring to expose his government’s war crimes even after he was brutally beaten and stabbed at his home in front of his wife and kids.

If Jiffry, CRNI’s other co-founder, were alive today, I believe he would find the lack of free speech progress even more surprising than our technological advancements.  To this day most cartoonists in the world cannot freely criticize their governments, nor freely express their religious views if such views run counter to the official line.  Even in the relatively democratic countries of Malaysia, India, Slovakia and South Africa, the threats to free speech are real and persistent.  Even America, “the land of the free,” is not as free as it should be.  This year alone, dozens of journalists have been illegally arrested and charged while covering the Occupy Movement.  One of those journalists is the cartoonist/reporter Susie Cagle.     

But perhaps most troubling is the fact that many countries, both democratic and undemocratic, are using the recent technological advancements to imprison for long terms not only cartoonists, but also non-media individuals who do nothing more than post a cartoon on a blog or Facebook page.  Our motto is “Protecting your Free Speech, one cartoonist at a time.”  But lately we are as likely to receive a request for help from a private individual as we are from an embattled cartoonist.

Though the struggle continues, today we recognize Jiffry and all the other journalists, and private individuals, on the front lines of free speech.