Celebrating International Cartoon Day, 18 September: Championing Freedom of Expression through Art

Tor Aloson
Tor Aloson
8 Min Read

International Cartoon Day, celebrated on 18 September each year, is dedicated to the art of cartooning and its profound impact on society. It’s a day to honor the creativity and wit of cartoonists worldwide. Still, it also reminds us of the challenges many cartoonists face in pursuing freedom of expression. The history of International Cartoon Day is rooted in a significant event that took place in Bangladesh in 2007, ultimately leading to the establishment of this global observance. This article delves into the history of International Cartoon Day and its significance, explores the case of Arifur Rahman, the cartoonist at the center of this event, and emphasizes the importance of freedom of speech in cartooning.

The Birth of International Cartoon Day

International Cartoon Day, also known as World Cartoon Day, originates from a pivotal event on 17 September 2007 in Bangladesh. On that day, a cartoon titled “Naam” (Name) was published in the 431st edition of Alpin, a featured supplement of the prominent Bangladeshi newspaper Prothom Alo. This seemingly innocuous cartoon, drawn by the then-20-year-old cartoonist Arifur Rahman, depicted a conversation between an older man and a young boy.

The Aftermath: A Firestorm of Controversy

Arifur Rahman’s cartoon “Naam” published a chain of events that shook the nation and highlighted the complex interplay between freedom of speech, religious sentiments, and political power. The cartoon triggered a massive demonstration against the cartoonist and his work. As a result of the public outrage and pressure from religious groups, the Bangladeshi government banned the cartoon and the sale of the 431st issue of Alpin. Authorities were instructed to seize all printed copies of the newspaper, and Arifur Rahman was arrested on 18 September 2007.

Arifur Rahman’s Trial: A Test of Freedom of Speech

After the controversy, multiple trials were initiated against Arifur Rahman. He was charged with “hurting religious sentiments” under Penal Code Section 295A and was subjected to a thirty-day detention order, which was later extended for an additional three months. Rahman’s case garnered international attention, with organizations like Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders coming to his defense.

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Amnesty International designated Arifur Rahman as a “prisoner of conscience,” emphasizing the importance of his immediate and unconditional release. Reporters Without Borders also issued a statement on his behalf, urging the government not to yield to pressure from extremist leaders and emphasizing that Rahman should not be made a scapegoat. These global efforts highlighted the significance of preserving freedom of expression, even in the face of public and political pressure.

The cartoonist, Arifur Rahman, was arrested on 18 September 2007 and detained for six months and two days. On the orders of the High Court, he was finally released on 20 March 2008, marking the end of a turbulent and life-altering journey.

International Cartoon Day: A Global Response to Adversity

Since 2017, cartoonists worldwide have celebrated 18 September as International Cartoon Day. This day serves as a global platform for cartoonists to express their creativity, share their perspectives, and promote the principles of free speech through their art.

The day’s slogan is simple yet powerful: “KEEP DRAWING, HAPPY CARTOONING!” International Cartoon Day is a reminder that cartooning is not a crime, and the freedom to express one’s thoughts and ideas through this art form is a fundamental human right.

Cartooning: A Catalyst for Change

Cartooning has long been a powerful means of communication and social commentary. Cartoons can distill complex issues into simple, relatable images, making them accessible to a broad audience. Cartoonists use humor, satire, and wit to shed light on social, political, and cultural issues. They can challenge authority, question norms, and inspire change through their work.

Cartoons can be a source of unity and a means of addressing challenging topics. They often serve as a mirror to society, reflecting its absurdities and injustices while providing a voice for the marginalized and oppressed. Cartoonists have played crucial roles in advocating for freedom of speech, human rights, and social justice.

The Significance of International Cartoon Day

International Cartoon Day is a testament to the power of art, satire, and humor in advocating for freedom of expression and human rights. It highlights the resilience of cartoonists who have faced adversity and persecution for their work, such as Arifur Rahman.

Celebrating International Cartoon Day: Championing Freedom of Expression through Art

This observance encourages people to recognize the vital role of cartoons in our society and to stand in solidarity with cartoonists who continue pushing boundaries and challenging societal norms. It serves as a reminder that freedom of speech is a cornerstone of democratic societies and must be protected and upheld.

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The Legacy of Arifur Rahman

The case of Arifur Rahman, whose cartoon led to the establishment of International Cartoon Day, underscores many cartoonists’ struggles in pursuing creative expression. Rahman’s story is a stark reminder of the challenges of restrictive laws and societal pressures, especially when addressing sensitive religious or political topics.

Rahman’s experience also serves as a testament to the resilience of individuals willing to endure personal sacrifice for the sake of their art and their commitment to free speech. His release following international pressure demonstrated the collective power of human rights organizations, advocacy groups, and individuals in championing the principles of freedom of expression.


International Cartoon Day, born out of the adversity faced by Arifur Rahman in Bangladesh, has evolved into a global celebration of the art of cartooning and a staunch defense of freedom of expression. This day provides a platform for cartoonists to share their creativity, humor, and social commentary with the world. It also calls on society to recognize the importance of preserving freedom of speech, even in the face of controversy and opposition.

Arifur Rahman’s story reminds me of some artists’ sacrifices to express their views, emphasizing the need to protect the right to free speech for all. International Cartoon Day is a tribute to cartoonists’ resilience and ability to use humor and art as powerful tools for change. As we celebrate International Cartoon Day each year, we should remember the lessons of the past and reaffirm our commitment to protecting freedom of expression for cartoonists and artists around the world.

Read also: Celebrating International Cartoon Day, September 18: The Triumph of Free Expression

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I am a passionate writer with a deep love for exploring diverse topics. My writing endeavors span a broad spectrum, allowing me to delve into various subjects enthusiastically and curiously. From the human experience's intricacies to the natural world's wonders, I find joy in crafting words that bring these subjects to life. My creative journey knows no bounds, and I embrace the opportunity to share my thoughts, stories, and insights on everything that piques my interest. Writing is my gateway to endless exploration, a realm where I can freely express my thoughts and ideas and connect with others who share my appreciation for the written word.
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