Syrian Cartoonist Ali Ferzat Attacked

On August 25, several days after publishing a cartoon comparing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat was attacked by masked men. The men dragged Ferzat from his car, beat him, broke both his hands to prevent him from drawing, and then dumped him on the side of the road. Ferzat is vocal in his criticism of Assad and the regime’s crackdown on protesters.  Although cartoons about the prime minister are “forbidden,” Ferzat has frequently included Assad in his work. Ferzat published of the country’s first independent publications, satirical newspaper Al Domari, which was later shut in a crackdown on media.

Government forces have killed an estimated 2,200 people, as violence escalated with attacks by the Syrian army on the cities of Hama, Deir Ezzor, Bokamel, Arben, and Madameya. Freedom of expression has come under threat, as cultural figures, activists and journalists face kidnapping, arrest and murder. Laws criminalize the publication of materials that threaten national unity or tarnish the image of the state. In July 2011, composer Ibrahim al-Qashoush, who penned an “anti-regime” song, was killed and his vocal chords removed. Nearly five months after demonstrations began, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down and authorized an executive order imposing sanctions on the Syrian government. President Assad has ignored international pleas to cease attacks on civilians, and his forces continue to use small arms and heavy weapons against Syrian citizens.

The horrific attack on Ali Ferzat is a clear indication of the dangerous and growing threat to freedom of expression in Syria and the perilous conditions that journalists face every day. Freedom House calls for an immediate, thorough and transparent investigation into this brutal crime.

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