On 1 March 2017, a man tore down and took four of the 25 works by cartoonist Arifur Rahman on display at an exhibition set up for newly arrived asylum seekers in the southern Norwegian city of Drøbak, reported Human Rights Service on 24 March 2017.
The man, who behaved in a threatening manner, said the works were blasphemous. The cartoonist believes that two other people standing outside the venue were also related to the attacker.
I find the religiously motivated theft of my exhibition drawings as a hard blow to the heart. What’s next? Am I being objective then? Can I continue to be safe here in Drøbak when municipal employees allow the theft to happen without intervening? And why did it go two whole days before I received a phone call after what happened? And that only happened after I had called my friends here in town.
According to the service, none of the event’s organisers tried to stop the man and municipality officials tried to keep the matter quiet. Further, the municipality tried to persuade the cartoonist to not report the crime as officials felt the incident could affect the attacker’s asylum case and could also change “people’s views on all new refugees in the municipality”.
In an 8 March 2017 interview with local newspaper Akershus Amtstidene (Amta), Rahman described the fear and helplessness he felt after the attack:
They do not understand how I feel. I feel that the event is trivialized and that they ignore my concern. I feel that they care more about this man than about how I feel. It seems as if they are trying to put a lid on the case. They discourage me to report the incident for the sake of their future in this country. Another argument is that it will affect people’s views on all new refugees in the municipality.
Media also asked to stay silent
The municipality also tried to ask the local newspaper to keep quiet on the attack.
Amta editor Felicia Øystå called the situation for her newspaper “embarrassing for an editor” in a 9 March 2017 editorial, adding that the newspaper “committed a huge mistake that affects the most important core value in our society, namely freedom of expression”.
In today’s newspaper we try to correct the mistake we committed. This time, you get the whole story, although several have tried to stop both Amta and others from talking loudly about this. The newspaper is not looking for scapegoats. We wish that the municipality should learn from their mistakes.
In response to the municipality’s fear that this attack could colour the opinions of others about asylum seekers and refugees, Øystå remarked:
It is important to emphasize that this is done by a person and the event must not lead to judge refugees in general. We guess that this may have been the motive for why the municipal employees handled this matter in a reprehensible manner. They did not want to create xenophobia. We cannot tolerate to have a society where truth is absent and one glosses over to paint a picture that fits into how we want our society to be.
Persecuted for his art
Rahman is a Bangladeshi cartoonist who had been persecuted, jailed and tortured for his cartoons in his home country since 2007, when he was first arrested and imprisoned for six months over a cartoon the Islamic Party of Bangladesh found controversial.
The cartoonist has been living in the Norwegian city since 2010 as its first International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) guest writer. ICORN is an independent organisation of cities and regions that offer shelter to writers and artists at risk.
Two of the stolen cartoons from the exhbition have since been retrieved.
» Human Rights Service – 24 March 2017
No longer feeling safe in Drøbak – municipal employees tried to hush the matter
» Akershus Amtstidene (Amta) – 9 March 2017
Truth be told – as it should be
» Akershus Amtstidene (Amta) – 8 March 2017
Arifur said he felt threatened by the experience. He no longer feels safe in Drøbak