Earlier last month, political cartoonist, Bonil was charged with socioeconomic discrimination in his home country of Ecuador for his controversial cartoon mocking Afro-Ecuadorian legislative assemblyman, Agustin “Tin” Delgado. But Bonil hasn’t just been targeted by his home country — ISIS has also threatened him.
Although the Ecuadorian government boasted the adoption of a more democratic approach to free speech with the passing of a 2013 law designed to overcome corruption, racism, and sexism in Ecuador’s media, the reality has been anything but free. The intent of the law was to ask journalists and editorial staff to adhere to a higher standard of content without interfering with open and free reporting on events. Unfortunately, the new law allows a governmental agency — SUPERCOM, the same agency that sought prosecution against Bonil last month — to review media outlets and fine, prosecute, and censor them for any materials that they deem racist, classist, sexist, or anti-governmental. Bonil was not only asked by SUPERCOM to publicly apologize for his cartoon, but he was also fined $500,000 in a governmental attempt to control printed press.
It is not just the Ecuadorian government, though, that has threatened Bonil for his cartoon work. According to Fundamedio, a free speech advocacy group in Ecuador, the newspaper that often prints Bonil’s work, El Universo, received a written statement last week issuing “a warning to the cartoonist Bonil.” Signed by Jose Muniz, a 22-year-old Ecuadorian student of Islam and member of the Islamic States (ISIS), the letter reads:
Once again, the cartoonist for El Universo, ridicules the Islamic State with his drawings, and names Allah… The next time I see a cartoon similar to what I have mentioned in your journal, I will call my friends in Syria to alert them about what is happening in Ecuador, so they can come and kill the wretch who is doing this… [They will] make an attack against the newspaper El Universo, such as the one that happened in France with the magazine Charlie Hebdo… This is the last time Bonil, or you will regret it.
The letter was sent in response to a cartoon entitled “Fundamentalism and Barbarism,” which was published on March 1. It depicts ISIS group members performing destructive acts with the caption “Let’s put an end to cultural expressions of the infindels!” The second panel shows a man in a turban, ostensibly a member of ISIS, sitting at his computer cursing “By Allah! The internet is slow… I cannot submit our video to Twitter and Facebook.”
In response to the threat, Bonil commented that it comes from a “climate of hostility and harassment against citizens and journalists.” Citing two other instances in which the Ecuadorian government has taken direct and legal action against other cartoonists for their “anti-governmental” work, Bonil notes that the power that the government is overtly exerting over the press is both concerning and debilitating to freedom of expression:
In his speeches, the president encourages people to reject and confront different social actors and journalists … he tears apart newspapers in front of TV cameras, encourages people not to believe or purchase certain media outlets, creates a page to respond to citizens who express their thoughts through social networks.
These actions may seem benign, but coupled with the numerous legal actions that the government and SUPERCOM has been taking as well as the recent threat that Bonil has received from outside groups, the state of freedom of speech and expression is in a precarious position in Ecuador. Regardless, Bonil has expressed that he will continue to draw despite the actions being taken against him — he will just make sure that his cartoons are “more incisive” going forward.
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!