Last week Iranian cartoonist Ali, aka Mr. Eaten Fish, was awarded the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award by the Cartoonist Rights Network International (CRNI). It will be presented at convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in Durham, North Carolina on September 24, 2016, and accepted by Australian poet and human rights worker, Janet Galbriath, on behalf of the cartoonist. Eaten Fish has been detained in the Manus Island Australian refugee camp for more than three years, along with thousands of other displaced people.
AJ+ documented Manus, which they plainly call a “prison camp for refugees” in a video they shared earlier this week.
Australia has a prison camp for refugees.
And this 25-year-old cartoonist who's locked up inside just won an award. pic.twitter.com/DnngiTSFsr
— AJ+ (@ajplus) September 6, 2016
The “immigration processing” centre is notorious for human rights abuses and is the subject of a campaign by several human rights groups. Detainees and NGOs have alleged abuses ranging from systemic racial and sexual abuse, to beatings, to a complete lack of internal security, to the intent to permanently and illegally detain.
According to CRNI, a human rights organization of 600 illustrators, “Eaten Fish has been able to keep up a stream of cartoons documenting the unspeakable abuses and excesses of the guards and administrators of the camp […] For this he has been the subject of beatings, deprivation of food and, even worse, degrading treatment by the guards. Australia has made publication of negative information about the camp punishable by two years in prison.”
The artist, who suffers from untreated PTSD and OCD, has been documenting the abuses he and his fellow detainees have suffered, helping to draw attention to the conditions within Manus. His cartoons are raw, both in the sense of not being polished and in the sense of their being uncensored — Eaten Fish is worried, scared and angry, both for himself and for all displaced people, and his cartoons reflect that. In an excellent analysis of the cartoonist’s work for Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites, Suvendrini Perera and Joseph Pugliese say that
“Eaten Fish graphically draws attention to an insular world cordoned off from the rule of law and the applicability of any protective regime of rights. In the world of Manus detention prison, sexual assault, breaches of duty of care and trust, and the enslavement and commodification of inmates’ bodies are the norms that govern the camp. The cartoons materialise an amoral world in which predators pretend to be carers in order to ensnare their victims, violate them and exploit them – with the full knowledge that they can continue to do so with impunity.”
Over thirty editorial cartoonists have drawn pieces in support of Eaten Fish, as part of a campaign to get him, at the very least, access to adequate medical care.
Eaten Fish’s work, and the Courage award from the CRNI, have drawn international attention to a situation that the Australian government would like us all to pretend does not exist: the indefinite, offshore detainment and abuse of displaced people. Manus Island is not the only place that refugees are made to wait, wait, wait and fade into an obscurity that hides uncountable abuses. Manus isn’t even Australia’s only detention camp. Eaten Fish’s story is not, tragically, uncommon. But his work and our reading of it can do much — if we choose to listen and to act on what we learn.