Ali Dorani, better known under his pseudonym (Mr.) Eaten Fish, is an Iranian-Norwegian cartoonist. In 2013, he fled Iran and sought asylum in Australia. As he was an illegal immigrant, he was sent to a detention camp on Manus Island. During his five-year incarceration, he documented the horrible living circumstances in a series of cartoons and comics. His art was published on the websites of ABC News, The Guardian, Law Text Culture, New Matilda and The Washington Post, and an international campaign pleading for his release was launched. Since 2017 Dorani is a free man and lives in Norway.

Early life and career
Ali Dorani was born in 1992 in Iran. As a child, he aspired to become either a film director or a cartoonist. He admires Edvard Munch, whose famous painting 'The Scream' resonated with him. As a boy, he watched Peter Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' film trilogy countless times. By 2013, Dorani no longer felt safe in his home country. The 21-year old man decided to leave Iran, although he never fully explained his motivations, out of fear for his family's safety.

In 2013, Dorani moved from Iran to Indonesia, where he stayed for 40 days. He actually wanted to go to Australia, since the New Zealand film director Peter Jackson "owns a big office in Melbourne". Through a people smuggler he was able to sail to Australia. Even though it was an overcrowded fishing boat, Dorani took the chance. Since he couldn't swim, it was a frightening voyage. The Iranian refugee never reached his destination. His boat was intercepted by the Australian navy, while all people aboard were sent to a detention camp on Christmas Island, not far from the Indonesian island Java. Dorani spent six months there, from 6 August 2013 until January 2014, after which he was incarcerated in another refugee camp on Manus Island, near Papua New Guinea, run by the Australian government. He was stuck there for five grueling years, until December 2017.

"Dead Island".

Life in prison
Between January 2014 and December 2017, Dorani was incarcerated in the refugee camp on Manus Island, which he described as a horrible place. The tropical heat was unbearable and there were mosquitoes everywhere. Since he had to share his cell with several other prisoners, he was unable to keep it clean. For an OCD patient like him, it was a living nightmare. Everywhere he witnessed misery and despair. People were beaten, assaulted, killed or committing suicide. One of his friends, Faysal Ishak Ahmed, died in custody. Dorani himself was victim of sexual assault, chronic sexual harassment and abuse. But he was too frightened to name the people who mistreated him. The stress gave him panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder. He refused medication to avoid being declared "mentally insane" and blacklisted from entering Australia.

To relieve his stress, a medical officer advised him to draw cartoons. He had to steal paper and pencils to begin making cartoons and comics with himself as protagonist. Told in diary form, they document his worries and daily life in camp. As a morbid background detail, he often added tombstones with the names of fellow inmates who'd passed away. At first, Dorani was worried his art might get him into trouble. Then again, he was already living in such hell that he couldn't imagine a worse fate. So he continued and actually found relief and power to carry on. Dorani signed his work with the pen name "Eaten Fish", since he felt like being fished away from the ocean and then "eaten" in camp. Earlier cartoonists who documented their life in prison camps were Horst Rosenthal and Ronald Searle.

As it happened, Dorani's cartoons were appreciated by his fellow inmates, immigration workers and the prison guards. But he couldn't make them public until Internet access was allowed in the camp. Detainees were only allowed to go online for 45 minutes every week and the connection was very slow. But Dorani could log onto Facebook, where he sent friendship requests to humanitarian groups and thousands of strangers. Since nobody knew him, they didn't reply. Luckily, word about his comics went around, even outside the prison walls. One day he was contacted by the Australian poet and activist Janet Galbraith. She wanted to display some of his cartoons at a gallery in Melbourne. By lack of a scanner, Dorani used a mobile phone to make a secret snapshot of a drawing. The photo was displayed in the gallery, where it was noticed by a man working on Manus Island. He approached Dorani and took photos of his drawings with his iPad, which helped the drawings get published in newspapers, magazines and other media. Dorani now got in touch with Australian cartoonist Andrew Marlton and Cartoonists Rights Network International.

'Happy Bloody Christmas, the true story of Faysal' (December 2016).

International support
Between 2016 and 2017, Dorani's case received more media attention. To support his release, the Professional Cartoonist Organization UK launched the #addafish hashtag campaign. Dozens of cartoonists drew graphic tributes. Among them were Steve BrightJason Chatfield, Donno, Atena Farghadani, Matt Golding, Judy Horacek, Steve 'Jonesy' Jones, Fiona Katauskas, Nik Kowsar, Jon Kudelka, David Pope, Antonio Rodriguez, David Rowe, Martin Rowson, David Squires, The Surreal McCoy, Ralph Steadman, Ann Telnaes, Sam Wallman, Andrew Wheldon and Cathy Wilcox. A protest was held outside the Australian High Commission in London and the cartoons supporting Eaten Fish were included at a November 2017 anti-censorship exhibition, 'Gagged', at Westminster Library. The imprisoned cartoonist received additional support from Cartooning for Peace, the AAEC, Canadian Association of Editorial Cartoonists and Cartoonists Right Network. Meanwhile, Dorani was unaware how his fame had grown and how many people were working actively to get him free. Behind the prison walls, he had little contact with the outside world, except through his limited Internet visits. Even so, he merely made the cartoons to keep his spirits up. He later expressed that he was flattered that people liked his work, but had no idea how his art might get him released.

Translation: "I spend so much time in the shower..." "Ah, cleaning germs and dirt off my body feels soooo good." "Being OCD is not that bad, but sometime it goes too far..."

On 17 October 2016, the Papua New Guinea Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration informed Dorani by letter that his application for refugee status was rejected. He was considered an illegal immigrant and would therefore have to return to his home country, or be forcibly removed. Complicating the matter was that Iran doesn't accept forcibly repatriated asylum seekers. The Australian poet Janet Galbraith pointed out that Dorani was too ill to be deported, let alone be interviewed. On 31 January 2017, Dorani went on hunger strike, lasting until 19 February. Afterwards, he was transferred to a hospital in Papua New Guinea, where he stayed for almost three months. Much to his surprise, he found out that the ICORN organization (International Cities of Refuge Network) had been able to secure his release and even find a country willing to grant him refugee status. On 17 December 2017, Dorani moved to Stavanger, Norway, where he has lived since. At first he found it difficult to adapt to his new environment. He coped with home-sickness and post-traumatic stress disorder. But eventually he warmed up to his new home country, which is the birthplace of one of his favorite painters, Edvard Munch. Today, Ali Dorani works in a local public library, while also giving cartooning lessons and holding lectures about Australia's refugee policy.

In 2016, Dorani won the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award. A year later, on 3 May 2017, the Liberty Victoria organization handed him the Voltaire Empty Chair Award, for people who contributed to "free speech", but are unable to accept it in person. In 2019, his work was exhibited during the annual Frankfurter Book Fair in Germany. On 3 September 2021, the Norwegian Fritt Ord foundation awarded a labor grant to nine political cartoonists, namely Vanessa Baird, Mette Hellenes, May Linn Clement, Emil J. Ellefsen, Ahmed Falah, Fadi Abou Hassan, Jenny Jordahl, Egil Nyhus and Ali Dorani.

Robert Russell, executive director of the Cartoonists Rights Network International stated: "His cartoons will some day be recognized as important, world-class chronicles of the worst human behavior since the World War II concentration camps."

Self-portrait as Munch's "Scream".

Series and books by Eaten Fish you can order today:


If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.