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Get on the Bus 2013 in Washington, D.C.

04/28/2013

Photograph of editorial cartoonist Abdul Arts getting on the bus for Get on the Bus, by and courtesy of David Rendell of Amnesty International Philadelphia Area

On Friday April 12th, despite the gloomy weather report and early morning showers, the skies cleared and Amnesty International's Get on the Bus 2013 for Washington, D.C. went ahead as planned with a small but very enthusiastic group of human rights activists.  One of those activists was editorial cartoonist and Somali refugee Abdul Arts.  Invited by Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), Abdul traveled from Skien, Norway, an international city of refuge.  His trip to participate in AIUSA's annual day of human rights education and activism was sponsored by the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), the Stewart R. Mott Foundation and the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI).

 

Photograph of CRNI Deputy Director Drew Rougier-Chapman introducing editorial cartoonist Abdul Arts, by and courtesy of Dexter Sumner of the Hague Files

 
The day began with introductions and explanations as to which countries’ embassies would be protested and why.  One of the morning speakers was CRNI Deputy Director Drew Rougier-Chapman. Drew gave the group of mostly high school and college students a little background about CRNI and its mission.  He then explained why Amnesty International and CRNI were going to protest at the Somalia Visa Center and the Embassy of Bangladesh on behalf of cartoonists and other journalists.  He then introduced a very special guest, Somali editorial cartoonist Abdul Arts.  Before encouraging the gathered human rights activists to get on a bus provided by CRNI for Get on the Bus, Drew asked Abdul the following question:

Drew – Abdul can you tell these people, who are not much younger than you are, why did you have to flee Somalia? 

Abdul – I was cartooning in a newspaper in Mogadishu, Somalia, one of the most dangerous cities in the world.  I made some funny cartoons.  I depicted the warlords in cartoons.  I depicted some of the radical groups.  I made funny faces in my cartoons in Somalia ….  That leads me threatened from the warlords and radical groups which control the country.  … They sent me threatening notes.  They tried to attack me first.  After that they shut down the newspaper that I was working for.  I escaped the country to Egypt ….  CRNI and the International Cities of Refuge — we just call it ICORN — tried to help me get out of there.  Finally I get to Norway.  Now I’m living in the city of Skien where I live for my cartoons peacefully.  I still draw cartoons for peace encouraging the young people in Somalia and all over Africa supporting the peace.  That’s why I got out of Somalia.  Today I would like to thank Amnesty International for inviting me here, Cartoonists Rights Network, and also ICORN.  It’s really an honor for me to come here and speak out and support freedom of speech and demonstrate with you.  It’s an honor.  Thank you.          

Photograph of a young Amnesty International activist in front of the Embassy of Romania, by and courtesy of David Rendell of Amnesty International Philadelphia Area

Before lunch the activists protested at the embassies of the Dominican Republic, Romania, Sudan and Indonesia.  At the Embassy of the Dominican Republic we protested the disappearance of human rights activist Juan Almonte Herrera.  At the Embassy of Romania we protested the forcible eviction of the ethnic Roma minority from their homes.  At the Embassy of Sudan we protested the horrific and large-scale campaign of war crimes committed against civilians.  At the Embassy of Indonesia we protested the arrest and fifteen-year sentence given to peaceful protester Filep Karma.  Karma received this sentence for raising a flag in support of Papuan rights. 

At Dupont Circle, immediately after a lunch break, we protested the mistreatment in South Africa of individuals in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LBGT) community.  After lunch we split into two groups.  One group headed off by foot to the nearby Embassy of Zimbabwe to protest unlawful arrests, long detentions, torture and disappearances of human rights workers.  A second group got on the bus to protest with Abdul Arts at the Somalia Visa Center and the Embassy of Bangladesh. 
 

Photograph of Amnesty International activists and editorial cartoonist Abdul Arts in front of the Embassy of Sudan, by and courtesy of Kaym Yusuz of Nomad Lyrics

At the Somalia Visa Center we protested the government’s failure to protect cartoonists and other journalists from violent attacks, and, the government’s unwillingness to prosecute those who commit these crimes.  The Visa Center was chosen for this protest, by the way, because the government of Somalia, which has recently reestablished diplomatic ties with the United States government, has not yet opened a new embassy in Washington, D.C.

Photograph of Amnesty International activist Nick Geballe and editorial cartoonist Abdul Arts, by and courtesy of Dexter Sumner of the Hague Files

Photograph of Amnesty International activists and editorial cartoonist Abdul Arts, by and courtesy of David Rendell of Amnesty International Philadelphia Area

On the way to the Embassy of Bangladesh, Abdul praised his friend and colleague Arifur Rahman who didn’t receive his visa in time.  Abdul said he was saddened that Arifur couldn’t be on the bus with us.  Abdul then thanked everyone for protesting on Arifur’s behalf and on behalf of all journalists struggling to tell the truth about Bangladesh. 

Photograph of Amnesty International activists, CRNI activists and editorial cartoonist Abdul Arts in front of the Embassy of Bangladesh, by and courtesy of David Rendell of Amnesty International Philadelphia Area

At the Embassy of Bangladesh, on behalf of Arifur and on behalf of journalists and private citizens, we protested that country’s excessive censorship.  The chant at the Embassy of Bangladesh was:


Hey ho. Hey ho.  Censorship has got to go!

Arifur has the right to draw.  Free expression is the law.
Bangladesh you must do your part.  Let cartoonists make their art.

Free to write.  Free to draw.
Free expression is the law!

Who’s afraid of a little cartoon?  Little cartoon?  Little cartoon?
Who’s afraid of a little cartoon?  Bangladesh, shame on you!

Photograph of Amnesty International activists by and courtesy of David Rendell of Amnesty International Philadelphia Area

The following Monday, Abdul Arts was interviewed by Harun Hassan, VOA Somali Service Senior Editor.  To hear that interview, in Somali of course, click on Waa Go'aankaaga: Dhalinyarada iyo Guurka and scroll to the thirty-fourth minute. 

Photograph of editorial cartoonist Abdul Arts and Voice of America Somali Service Senior Editor Harun Hassan by Drew Rougier-Chapman

Photograph of editorial cartoonist Abdul Arts by Drew Rougier-Chapman

The following Wednesday, April 17th, Abdul was interviewed by CRNI Executive Director Robert "Bro" Russell.  Dr. Russell asked Abdul why he had to flee his homeland and how he was eventually able to find refuge in Norway.