Where political comedy is no joke
It’s the presidency that’s launched a thousand late-night comedy bits.
In the United States, the parodying of the nation’s most powerful is generally considered protected speech under the First Amendment. However, in some countries, such insults — even in jest — are no joke. Under certain regimes, political comedy is an act of dissidence.
These are some of the countries where political satire has been punished.
Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef — sometimes referred to as the “Jon Stewart of Egypt” — was summoned to court in 2013 to face charges of insulting then-President Mohamed Morsi on his comedy show. Although the charges were dropped, Youssef later canceled his show under immense governmental pressure after Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power in 2014.
In November 2014, Youssef was ordered to pay more than $10 million for his show’s content. Fearing for his safety, he fled the country with his family, eventually coming to the United States.
In May 2016, five of the six members of a satirical comedy troupe were arrested “on suspicion of insulting state institutions and inciting protests,” according to Human Rights Watch. The group had posted videos mocking el-Sisi and criticizing the government’s crackdown on protesters. Four were detained until September, according to the Egyptian news outlet Ahram Online.
Renowned political cartoonist Musa Kart has clashed with Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan for more than a decade. In 2005, Erdogan sued Kart over a cartoon depicting him as a kitten tangled in a ball of wool. In 2014, Erdogan again sought charges against Kart. Both of these attempts were dismissed, according to Amnesty International.
In 2016, however, following the attempted coup, Kart and a number of his newspaper colleagues were arrested and jailed for months without trial. They are facing charges of “abusing trust” and “assisting an armed terrorist organization.” According to the Cartoonist Rights Network International, Kart was released at the end of July pending additional hearings.
According to reports by the BBC and Reuters, in 2013, a Thai comedian and activist was jailed for two years under the country’s lèse majesté laws, which make it illegal to insult the dignity of a leader. Thailand has some of the world’s strictest lèse majesté laws. Those found guilty can face three to 15 years in jail for each count.
Maung Thura, who goes by the stage name Zarganar, gained comedic prominence in Myanmar in the late 1980’s, according to a Human Rights Watch report. His most popular jokes took aim at the nation’s military leaders. He was arrested in 1988 for anti-government demonstrations and was tortured in jail, according to the report. He was released and again arrested in 1990 and 2007. In 2008, he was tried for charges including “making statements causing public mischief,” according to the report. He was sentenced to 59 years in prison. This was later reduced to 35 years. He was released in 2011.
Chataing TV, a popular satirical show in Venezuela, was taken off the air in 2014. Its host, Luis Chataing, told CNNEspañol that he believes the network was pressured to cancel the show because of its criticisms of the government. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro denied playing a role in the show’s cancellation.
Other stand-up comedians in Venezuela reported having shows canceled or being harassed by government supporters.
In 2010, a Kuwaiti private television station was attacked by an angry mob for programming that was “insulting” to the ruling family, according to Reuters. The station’s political satire program was suspended the year prior by the Kuwaiti information minister, according to Reporters without Borders. The nation also has lèse majesté laws in place.
Two television executives were jailed in July 2016 in relation to satirical talk shows that aired on their network. The executives were accused of “engaging in illegal production practices,” according to an Al-Jazeera report. Authorities said that the network had obtained permits under false pretenses about the nature of the shows.