Bangladeshi Political Cartoons as Visual Rhetoric in the Context of Anti-Free Speech Laws

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Guided by Sonja Foss' (2005) theory of visual rhetoric, this thesis is an exploration of political cartoons from Bangladesh, published between October 2016 - October 2020. The study is framed by the Digital Security Act (DSA), an anti-freedom of speech law enacted by the ruling Awami League government in October 2018. The cartoons analyzed in this study are divided into two sets – 16 published in a two-year period prior to the enactment of the DSA, and 16 published within two years after the enactment of the law. A criterion-based sampling technique was used to select cartoons published online by two Bangladeshi cartoonists' – Mehedi Haque and Sadatuddin Ahmed Amil. A thematic analysis of the cartoons revealed that corruption and threats to freedom of expression are recurring themes in both sets of data, while cartoons published pre-DSA also contain commentary on the prime minister and the government's feelings of contentment. Declining democratic practices is a major theme in cartoons published post-DSA. By utilizing the method of visual rhetorical analysis on six cartoons, the study delved deeper into the cartoons' construction of visual arguments for each theme. Finally, a comparative analysis of the themes and visual arguments in cartoons from each data set revealed that cartoons published after October 2018 are differentiated by disappearing characters and storylines, the use of indirect language, and implicit visual arguments, as well as increased usage of metaphors. Cartoons published post-DSA also have a sharper focus on specific news events as indicators of national issues. This study contributes to a growing body of research on the DSA, highlights how a specific medium of expression can be affected by anti-freedom of speech laws, and provides implications for media industries facing legal challenges.



Editorial Cartoons, Free Speech, Visual Rhetoric, Bangladesh, Digital Security Act