Sub-Saharan Africa

 “When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, it becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues.” 

-Thomas L. Friedman


Adenle Adewale - life threatened, fled into hiding, 1998

Summary of incident:

In May of 1996 officers of Nigeria's State Security Service arrested Owei Lakemfa, the editor of the newspaper Today's News Today.  The arrest was made in response to a series of cartoons by the paper's cartoonist Adenle Adewale that criticized the increasingly repressive regime of General Sanai Abacha.  The officers announced that the editor would be released once Adenle, the cartoonist, turns himself in.  Owei was subjected to mental abuse during four days of detention.  At the urging of his publisher, Adenle went into hiding for several weeks.  He was later forced to resign his job at the paper. 

Details of Incident:

After the newspaper Today's News Today published a series of cartoons in May of 1996 by Adenle Adewale criticizing General Sanai Abacha and his increasingly repressive regime of the 1990s, members of Nigeria's State Security Service paid the paper's office a visit.  Fortunately for the cartoonist, he happened to be away from his drawing board.  The editor, Owei Lakemfa, was shown cartoons by Adenle that had infuriated the dictator Abacha the most.  One of those cartoons, featured below, depicts a Nigerian citizen starved for democracy.  As Adenle was away, the editor had to bare the brunt of their anger.  They took the editor in for what they euphemistically called "further questioning."  They said that he would be released as soon as Adenle turned himself in.  The editor was detained for four days during which he was subjected to mental abuse.

Security forces all over the world put moral pressure on their target to be party to his or her own abuse.  The point is to intimidate the wanted individual into surrendering to the security force.  When a hostage is needed a family member, most commonly a spouse or a daughter, is taken.  The real target, fearing their loved one might be raped or molested, hurries down to the local detention center to give themselves up.  Sometimes taking a hostage is a bluff.  Sometimes it is not.  Either way it is a very effective and all too common tactic on the part of the Goon Squads of the world.

The paper's publisher advised Adenle not to turn himself in, but to "disappear into thin air for some time."  The publisher had significant contacts in the military, and he felt he could get the editor out of detention without Adenle having to give himself up.  As it turned out, the strategy worked and Owei Lakemfa was released four days later. 

The editor had not been beaten.  But there are ways to intimidate and frighten a human being that don't involve physical injury.  In the four days that he was detained, he was badly shaken and traumatized by the inhuman conditions and by the mental abuse they inflicted, including holding a gun to his head.  

Adenle went into several weeks of hiding.  He literally lived in total isolation in a wooded area nearby his home.  None of his family members knew if he was dead or alive.  Not even his wife and three daughters knew his fate.  "My wife went thru mental torture, and being a student, she could not adequately fend for the family during my absence," Adenle wrote to the CRNI in September of 1998.

The decision to go into hiding and not to step in for his editor was a difficult one for Adenle.  But his publisher had assured him that the Security Service officers would not physically harm his editor.  Adenle knew that they did not want the editor.  Adenle also knew that he, the cartoonist, likely faced physical and mental torture, and possibly even death, if he turned himself in.    

Adenle eventually felt it was safe to come out of hiding.  But shortly after doing so, the Security Service pressured the paper to force a resignation from Adenle.  Less than a year later, President Abachi suddenly and unexpectedly died of a heart attack.  

Since his ordeal, Adenle has become a strong advocate for free speech.  Prior to immigrating to the United States, Adenle founded the Cartoonist Rights Initiative in Nigeria.  Since moving to the United States, Adenle has taught art in New Orleans, Louisiana, and, Atlanta, Georgia.  He is presently pursuing an advanced degree in art practice and theory.    

Actions taken by CRNI:

CRNI informed the United States Embassy in Nigeria, as well as other human rights and free speech organizations, of Adenle's and Owei's plights.  However, since Adenle had gone into hiding, we had no way of contacting him to assess his safety. 



Paul-Louis Nyemb Ntoogueé aka Popoli - beaten and life threatened, 1991-2002

Summary of incidents:  In 1992 the governor of Douala, Cameroon, ordered the arrest of cartoonist Paul-Louis Nyemb Ntoogueé, aka, Popoli for a collection of political cartoons critical of local and national government officials.  To avoid arrest Popoli hid in a swamp for 20 days.  In 1996 Popoli was arrested and interrogated after exposing a swindling scheme by a high ranking government official.  The charges were eventually dropped.  But before being exonerated, Popoli was subjected to unsigned letters with threats of violence.  In 1997, Popoli was subjected to more threats of violence from the Security Officers after Popoli's publisher was sent to jail for articles exposing corruption in the government.  In August 1998, Popoli was assaulted by two strangers for drawing cartoons critical of First Lady Chantal Biya, President Paul Biya, and other government officials.  After being tipped-off that he would again be attacked, Popoli fled the country.  In November, Popoli returned to Cameroon.  Upon his return he and his paper bravely published his story titled, "Why I Fled."  On November 30, 2002, Popoli was dragged from his car and beaten by Security Officers. 

Details of incidents:

In 1991, the Cameroon government began an intensified campaign of intimidation, censorship and violence against Popoli, a cartoonist who has never been entirely free to comment on the important issues of  the day.  Paul-Louis Nyemb Ntoogueé, aka, Popoli [or "the people"] is the cartoonist for the newspapers Le Messager and Le Combattant.  At first his more opinionated work was removed by the authorities of the Cameroon dictatorship prior to publication.  Then in late 1991 he was arrested and tortured for having marched in a public demonstration organized by six newspapers.  In 1992 Douala's governor Koungou Edima ordered an arrest of Popoli for a collection of cartoons satirizing both the opposition movement and the government, at both the local and the national level.  In order to avoid arrest Popoli hid in a swamp for 20 days.  After his friends informed him that the government was no longer hunting him, he reemerged into society. 

In 1993 Popoli began his own newspaper as an offshoot of Le Messager called Le Popoli Messager, an investigative journal in a comic book format.  In 1996 he was arrested after exposing a swindling scheme orchestrated by the Secretary of the President.  Popoli was interrogated and later released.  Eventually the Secretary was convicted of corruption.  But long before being vindicated, Popoli had to tolerate unsigned letters threatening violence.  

By 1997 Popoli's publisher, Pius Njawi, had been arrested and sentenced to one year in prison for articles exposing corruption in the government.  The  officers of the Directorate General of National Security then turned their attention to Popoli.  They repeatedly called him to tell him that they would enjoy killing him, graphically detailing just exactly how they would do it.  For a time, he avoided any daytime public exposure, darting from safe house to safe house.  According to Popoli, they also said that they would "ply their trade" on his younger sister if he didn’t make himself available to them.  A number of journalists had been killed in Cameroon under the present government.  So Popoli had good reason to believe that their threats were not empty.  Popoli says he was then approached by two strangers who told him that new charges would be continually added to keep Pius in jail indefinately.  Popoli alleges that he was told that it would be best for him and Pius Njawi if Popoli were to stop drawing what they called his "revolting cartoons that make the people upstairs very angry."

The cartoons that anger the "people upstairs" are those that expose the corruption of  the Biya Regime which has been firmly in power since 1982, and those that lampoon Chantal Biya, the First Lady.  Popoli's cartoons have occassionally reminded his audience that Chantal Biya was allegedly a prostitute before she married President Paul Biya.  The cartoon below is just such a cartoon.  Popoli it should be noted is not the only media figure to bring up this delicate matter, nor the only one to suffer the consequences for doing so.  The biographer Bertrand Teyou, for instance, has also angered the people upstairs by reminding the audience of the First Lady's allegedly scandalous past.  In November of 2010 Bertrand was convicted of "insult to character" and "organizing an illegal demonstration," specifically a book signing for his title La Belle de la République Bananière: Chantal Biya de la Rue au Palais [The Belle of the Banana Republic: From the Streets to the Palace].  He was freed on May 2, 2011, only after International PEN, a writers association, agreed to pay a fine on Bertrand's behalf.       


In August 1998 two strangers assaulted Popoli at his office.  A few days later Popoli fled the country after being tipped off that he would again be attacked and so would his younger sister.  The day he fled the country officers invaded his house and left behind the written threat that they would kill him by a thousand machete cuts if he continued to draw "disrepectful" cartoons of the President and First Lady Chantal Biya.  Popoli initially fled to Chad and later settled in South Africa.  While Popoli was in South Africa the Security Forces back in Cameroon tried to discover his whereabouts by applying pressure on his publisher. 

Popoli fled to South Africa as a safe haven.  But there the immigration authorities had no sympathy for his story and refused to grant him anything more than a temporary visa.  Soon he was fleeing the police so he wouldn’t get arrested as an illegal alien and immediately deported back to the hands of the Cameroonian Goon Squad.  One group of South African police wanted to arrest and deport him and another wanted him to pay them bribes.  Despite great efforts on the part of the Canadian Immigration Ministry and the Canadian Embassy in Pretoria, Popoli decided to end his quest for asylum and to return to home to Cameroon.  “I’d rather be buried by friends in my village than continue to live in fear among strangers,” he told the CRNI after returning to Cameroon.      


Popoli returned to Cameroon in November of 1998.   His work colleagues understandably had mixed feellings about his return.  If the Security Officers decided to kill him at work with a bomb, his colleagues might be killed along with him.  Despite their fears, on November 29, 1998, Le Messager ran, on its front page, Popoli's story of survival titled "Why I Fled."  The Popoli cartoon featured below accompanied that article.


On the night of November 30, 2002, Popoli and another staff cartoonist with Le Messager were stopped at a police checkpoint.  They told Popoli that he can't get away with insulting the President and the First Lady.  Popoli replied that the head of state was a citizen just like he was.  They ordered Popoli out of the car and then beat him on his head, the soles of his feet and his shoulders. 


Actions taken by CRNI:


After fleeing Cameroon in 1998, Popoli contacted CRNI seeking help.  We contacted a local human rights organization that provided him an office with a computer so that he could stay connected with his family and the rest of the world.  We contacted the Canadian High Commission In Yaoundé and helped him initiate a request for political asylum.  Additonally we gave him survival advice and started a fund to help him survive financially in South Africa.


In July of 1999 we gave our Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning to Popoli for his long struggle for free speech.

After both the 1998 and 2002 violations of his human rights CRNI sent letters about his plight to the United States Embassy, Cameroon's Minister of State, Cameroon's Minister of Public Security, and Cameroon's President, Paul Biya.  At our urging, the United States Ambassador in Yaoundé in 2002 brought Popoli's case to the attention of his counterpart in the Cameroonian government.  The harassment suddenly stopped, and in fact many of the police who had beaten Popoli before, now approached him saying, "What good friends we are now Mr. Popoli."  Their supervisors had obviouly advised them that he was now off-limits to their harassment.

In 2004 Popoli started the Cameroonian CRNI affiliate, Coup d'Crayon.  


South Africa

Jonathan Shapiro, aka  Zapiro -  sued by sitting Vice President, and later sued by sitting President, and life threatened by unknown individuals, 2006 - present

Summary of incident:

On two separate occasions Jacob Zuma, the former Vice President and current President of South Africa sued Jonathan "Zapiro" Shapiro, Zapiro's editor and the paper that ran Zapiro's work.  Vice President, and later President, Zuma claimed the cartoons damaged his dignity and reputation.  In total the damages sought aginst Zapiro, his editor and The Sunday Times totaled the equivalent of nearly $2 million.  Zapiro has refused to back down.  He has unapologetically defended himself by pointing out that Jacob Zuma's words and actions, and not any editorial cartoons, have damaged Zuma's dignity and reputation.  The cartoons by Zapiro that Jacob Zuma took offense to very bluntly condemn this national figure for manipulating South Africa's justice system.  President Zuma has since dropped one of the charges.  But other charges still hang over Zapiro's head.

Details of incident:

In early July of 2006, Vice President Jacob Zuma had letters of demand delivered on the South African newspapers The Star, The Citizen, Sunday Sun, Sunday Times, Sunday Independent, Sunday World and Rapport, the media group Avusa, the media group Independent Newspapers, the radio service Highvel Stereo, and, Jonathan Shapiro, the editorial cartoonist who goes by the pen name Zapiro.  The letters of demand threatened lawsuits for unflattering treatment of the Vice President.  The unflattering treatment included one of Zapiro's editorial cartoons, a letter to the editor, a writen joke, newspaper articles, and, a radio host's satirical song about the Vice President.  The letters demanded a staggering amount of money of over R90 million, of which R15 million alone, or a little over $2.1 million, was demanded from the cartoonist and Independent Newspapers for publishing Zapiro's cartoon.  Over the next three years, Jacob Zuma made good on a number of those threats by filing lawsuits against the Citizen, Rapport, The Sunday Times, Independent Newspapers, Avusa, Highveld Stereo and cartoonist Zapiro.  In January 24, 2007, Zuma filed a R5 million suit against Zapiro and the Independent Newspapers.  On December 17, 2008, a second letter of demand from Jacob Zuma was served on Zapiro.  In this letter of demand, the Vice President threatened to take the cartoonist to court if Zapiro and another paper he works for, The Sunday Times, failed to pay him R7 million in the next 14 days, for a second cartoon that he objected to.   Jacob Zuma claimed R5 million for damage to his reputation and R2 million for damage to his dignity.  Two years later the newly elected President Zuma filed for R7 million against the Sunday Times, Zapiro and Zapiro's editor, Mondi Makhanya.  President Zuma later dropped one of the charges.  But he still claims R5 in damages. 

In December of 2010, the South African Editors' Forum (Sanef) called on President Jacob Zuma to withdraw his claim against Zapiro, Zapiro's editor, The Sunday Times, and Avusa.  Expressing shock over Jacob Zuma's decision to sue the media, Sanef took particular exception to the "excessively high" claim of R5 million and the "lengthy time taken to lodge it."  Sanef pointed out that this latest action against free speech along with "earlier defamation actions against newspapers and the cartoonist" will have a "chilling effect on newspapers and the media in commenting on affairs of the day and the conduct of politicians." 

It is no surprise that Jacob Zuma has become the target of commentators like Zapiro in a country that has enjoyed a great deal of press freedom since the fall of apartheid, a system of legally enforced racial segregation, in 1994.  Allegations of corruption have followed Jacob Zuma throughout his career.  Twice he has faced corruption charges.  Both cases were ultimately dismissed on technicalities.  And then there are the jaw dropping statements he made while on trial for allegedly raping a friend with whom he admitted to have had a consensual sexual relationship.  When asked by the judge why he hadn't been afraid of contracting AIDS from someone known to have been HIV-positive, Jacob Zuma, then Vice President and head of the National AIDS Council, replied his risk had been eliminated by his taking a shower immediately after the sexual encounter.  Vice President Zuma was acquitted of all charges in his rape case.

In April of 2006, while then Vice President Jacob Zuma was on trial for rape, Zapiro drew the following cartoon of defendant Jacob Zuma crossing his fingers while testifying in court.  This was the first cartoon for which Jacob Zuma sued Zapiro.  As noted above, Jacob Zuma in January of 2007, sued Zapiro and the Independent Magazines for R5 million or a little over $712,000.         

Then in the late summer of 2006, during the run-up to the preliminary hearing on the corruption charges against Zuma, political allies of the Vice President made inflammatory public statements in an attempt to improperly influence the judicial process.  The most disturbing statements came from Gwede Mantashe, Julius Malema and Zwelinzima Vavi.  Gwede Mantashe accused the judges of being counter-revolutionaries who would incite anarchy if the corruption case against the Vice President preceeded.  Julius Malema and Zwelinzima Vavi said they would turn to violence, would even kill, to protect Zuma.  In response to these attempts to undermine the judicial process, Zapiro drew, and The Sunday Times published, the following very outspoken cartoon.       


In the cartoon, the Justice System depicted as Lady Justice, is about to be raped by Jacob Zuma as  political allies Julius Malema, Gwede Mantashe, Blade Nzimande and Zwelinzima Vavi hold her down.  Gwede Mantashe urges Jacob Zuma to "GO FOR IT, BOSS."  Affixed atop Jacob Zuma's head is a showerhead, reminding Zapiro's audience of Jacob Zuma's bizarre testimony during his rape trial.


The leaders of African National Council (ANC) Youth League, an important body within Jacob Zuma's party, were incensed by the cartoon and the political hue and cry against Jonathan was intense and loud.  In a public address, Julius Malema, the ANC Youth League leader, called for extrajudicial action to be taken against Zapiro and anyone else who would be so disrespectful to the presidential heir apparent.  He also accused Zapiro of racism by asserting that the woman in the cartoon being held down and about to be raped is a white woman.

Despite the hue and cry about the cartoon, Zapiro refused to back down.  He vehemently denied the charge of racism calling it ludicrous and obviously intended to distract attention away from the clear message of the cartoon.  He first asserted that his depiction of Lady Justice is in fact a black woman as is appropriate for a country that is predominently black.  Then Zapiro reminded his critics of his stand against apartheid during the the 1980s and 1990s.  An early enemy of apartheid, Jonathan Shapiro earned his credentials drawing posters for the ANC while it was still an illegal organization.  Consequently, a young Zapiro was arrested, harassed, and jailed for 11 days for his active support of the ANC.  But perhaps the most surprising way in which Zapiro confronted his accusers was to draw a series of cartoons with the same theme, some of which are featured below. 

The first cartoon to continue the Lady Justice theme criticizes the act of rape, the absurd succeeding justifications made by Jacob Zuma and his allies for their interference in the rape trial, and the corruption in the legal system that allowed for the complete acquittal of Jacob Zuma.  The second cartoon to continue the theme depicts a suddenly freed Lady Justice walking away from from the Vice President who has just received a swift kick from Lady Justice.  This cartoon was drawn immediately following the court's refusal to dismiss the financial malfeasance charges against Vice President Jacob Zuma prior the start of the trial.  As already noted above, the charges against Jacob Zuma were eventually dismissed.  Soon afterwards, Jacob Zuma was elected President of South Africa.  The third cartoon expresses Zapiro's opinion about that eventual dismissal of charges.  The cartoon dated January 14, 2010, depicts the President Jacob Zuma and his allies taking up exactly where they had left off before the trial       

These lawsuits by the former Vice President and current President of South Africa is a test case of the ability of the judiciary to maintain its independence from the executive branch.  It is also a harbinger of the future of freedom of the press and freedom of speech in South Africa.

To read a very brief BBC News article about the lawsuit and hear Zapiro confront President Jacob Zuma during a live call-in radio interview on Talk Radio 702, click on Zuma Sues Over "Rape" Cartoon

The efforts to indimidate Zapiro have not been confined to the courts.  Jonathan and his family have been threatened over the phone by individuals who refuse to identify themselves.  Stones have also been thrown through the windows of their home.  Furthermore, Zapiro's plan to launch on broadcast television an animated satirical take on South African politics has been sabotaged by political influence on his corporate sponsors.  For now, Z-News can only be seen online.         

Actions taken by CRNI:

CRNI contacted Jonathan Shapiro, aka Zapiro, upon learning of the first lawsuit.  CRNI also used our partnership with IFEX to post "Alerts" about Johnathan's progress thru the courts. This brought global awareness to his situation and widespread condemnation of Jacob Zuma's efforts to silence criticism of him in the media.   CRNI also wrote a letter to South African President Jacob Zuma reminding him that post-Apartheid South Africa had, untill then, maintained an exceptionally free press.  The letter was never recognized.  We then honored Jonathan with our Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning on July 6, 2007, at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.  CRNI arranged a taping of the ceremony by C-Span, a private American non-profit company dedicated to providing public access to the political process  Click on C-Span taping to watch the ceremony including Jonathan's acceptance speech.  CRNI also arranged a television interview of Zapiro by Riz Khan of the Riz Khan Show on Al Jazeera English.  You can see that interview by clicking on the embedded YouTube link below.