Palestinian Cartoonist Released from Israeli Prison
Reported and Translated by Jannie Schipper of Radio Netherlands Worldwide
July 1, 2013
Palestinian cartoonist Mohammed Sabaaneh was released from prison this afternoon. He was arrested on his way back from Jordan on February 16th 2013. While in prison, Sabaaneh kept on drawing cartoons. RNW talked to him when he was still at the prison’s gate.
Sabaaneh works for the Palestinian daily Al Hayat Al Jadida (“The New Life”). He is also a member of Cartoon Movement, an international network of professional cartoonists that RNW cooperated with on several occasions. With the help of friends and other prisoners, he managed to get two cartoons out of prison, which were then published in several media. According to his brother Adel, Mohammed Sabaaneh was punished for publishing these drawings. A third cartoon is still with Sabaaneh’s family. “And I have more,” says Sabaaneh. “I am planning to have an exhibition about Palestinian prisoners, with drawings I made in prison.”
Initially, Mohammed Sabaaneh was held without charges. After local and international organizations campaigned to release the cartoonist, he was sentenced with five months in prison in April this year on charges of “contacts with a hostile organization”. “I didn’t have the choice but to accept these charges,” explains Sabaaneh. “If I had appealed, they would have kept me for at least a year.”
Palestinian prisoners are one of the subjects Mohammed Sabaaneh addressed regularly in his cartoons, besides other subjects such as price rises and internal political struggle in the Palestinian territories. His brother Adel is active for an NGO dealing with prisoners and their brother Thamer edited a book on the subject. Thamer Sabaaneh was arrested weeks after Mohammed and is still in prison without being charged officially.
“People are in prision just because they are Palestinians,” Sabaaneh says. About 5000 Palestinians are in Israeli prisons. Last week, a special UN committee expressed concern about the circumstances of Palestinian prisoners. When asked what was the hardest thing in prison, Sabaaneh answers: “I cannot say what was the hardest, everything is hard from the interrogation to the circumstances in the prison itself, to even the moment of release. These people just deserve to be free.”
During his jail term, expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian cartoonist took different forms. Fellow cartoonists drew solidarity casrtoons, a singer made a song for him and friends started Facebook pages .