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Iraqi artist and human rights defender Ahmed Falah finds refuge in Norway (Demo)

This statement was originally published on on 29 June 2019.

A single cartoon drove Ahmed Falah to five years uncertainty in exile in Jakarta. Now one of Iraq’s most influential and controversial cartoonists, he is safely in Drøbak with the ICORN programme, where he can continue to work freely without fear of persecution.

Ahmed Falah was a painter in Baghdad until 2014, when he had to leave Iraq because of threats to his life. Falah started his career in 2010, working as a cartoonist, illustrator and designer in several publishing houses, newspapers and private businesses. In the course of his career as a cartoonist and artist, Falah has worked as a designer and illustrator for The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights and a consultant and service provider for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. He worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for an online news agency that assigned a page for his daily cartoons between 2016 and 2017. Many online and print newspapers and magazines, like AlAraby and Jadaliyya, have published articles and interviews on Falah’s artistic career and his influence on the Iraqi cartoonist movement.


The power of the cartoon

In 2014, Ahmed Falah started working as an illustrator and cartoonist at one of the very few independent magazines in the country. After publishing Falah’s cartoon depicting a notorious militia leader, the magazine started receiving intimidations and the magazine, like many other independent media outlets in Iraq, was ultimately shut down. Direct threats to Falah’s life led him to Jakarta in Indonesia, where he has lived for the past 5 years as a refugee, with no rights or possibility to make a living.

With no means or opportunity to publish his cartoons in newspapers or magazines in his native Iraq, Falah turned to Facebook, where he shared his cartoons and illustrations. Beyond the reach of Iraqi political or religious forces, he used his liberty to freely express his opinions via his art. Falah dedicated all his time to cartooning and activism, and raised the level of his criticism towards political, religious and tribal leaders.

During the years 2014-2015, Ahmed Falah posted a new cartoon almost every day in response to the news coming from Iraq at the time when many Iraqi cities and territories fell to the Islamic State (IS). Widespread anti-government protests took place in the country and huge numbers of Iraqis started using social media as an alternative source of information and commentary, and to provide up to date, accurate and impartial news to the public. This was a response to the failure of traditional Iraqi media outlets, all affiliated or directly owned by political and religious parties and militias.

Known for his sarcastic illustrations of Iraqi politicians and clergymen alike, Falah’s caricatures appeared at most large demonstrations in Iraq at the time, expressing protesters’ pain, fear and anger towards the politicians.

Due to the daring nature of his cartoons, and the fact that he was seen as a completely independent artist with no political or religious affiliation or biases, it didn’t take long before Falah’s page started to receive attention from Iraqi Facebook users. Today, his Facebook page has more than 100 thousand followers and 300 thousand average weekly interactions.

Stepping up the activism, led to even more threats against him in the comments section of almost all of his images and cartoons. Death threats, insulting comments, even online campaigns and hashtags to sue Falah and to close his Facebook page, have dominated the last few years of his career.

Ahmed Falah came to Drøbak in Norway through the ICORN programme in May 2019, where he now looks forward to expressing his opinions via art and cartoons freely. Click here for a sample of his cartoons and his recent comment to the New York Times’ decision to end its use of any and all political cartoons:

The post Iraqi artist and human rights defender Ahmed Falah finds refuge in Norway appeared first on IFEX.


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