Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat hospitalised after being beaten

Menna Taher, Friday 26 Aug 2011

The world-renowned cartoonist Ali Ferzat, who has been badly beaten in a security clampdown, has a history of eliciting the wrath of authorities

Aly Ferzat
Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, at his Damascus gallery.(photo: Reuters)

The dissident cartoonist and long-time opponent of the Syrian regime Ali Ferzat has been kidnapped by masked gunmen and beaten up badly, Thursday, 25 August.

He was found bleeding on the road to the airport and was taken to the hospital.

Ferzat, who is currently in his late fifties, is one of the most important and famous cartoonists in the Arab region. He was born in 1956 in Hama and currently lives in Damascus and is highly critical of the Bashar Al-Assad regime and its brutality.

He has published his works in many Syrian, Arabic and Western newspapers, including the French Le Monde, and won many national and international awards, including the first prize at the Damascus Caricature Festival in 1980 and 1982, first prize at the Sophia International Festival in Bulgaria in 1987, and the Dutch Prince Claus Award in 2002.

In a recent interview on Al-Arabiya Channel, Ferzat said that he met Al-Assad before he took up presidency, in one of his exhibitions, and was told by him that his cartoons shouldn’t have been banned. However, under Bashar's regime, Ferzat was subject to strident censorship, finding it hard to publish his works.

One of his most ambitious projects was the satirical newspaper Al-Domary (The Lamplighter), which closed down in 2003 due its outspoken material against corruption within the government. The newspaper was highly successful; its first issue, which published 50,000 copies, sold out.

In interview on the cultural website Al-Awan, Ferzat told the story of the closing down of Al-Domary saying that the government used means of blackmail and intimidation.

At one point he was offered 35 million Syrian liras to close it down but he refused. Then he was ordered to publish the privately-owned newspaper through governmental printing houses and became subject to draconian censorship.

When Ferzat realised that the paper would close down he made the last issue, which he called "the suicidal issue". He was later surprised that all printing houses took an order not to print it.

Ferzat then went to the Ministry of Communications to notify them that he found a printing house ready to publish it. It was distributed at 9am and at 10am it was taken off the shelf. After that incident the license of the newspaper was taken away and it was closed down under emergency law.

In his Al-Alrabya interview, Ferzat recounted how a protest of 100 people was staged against his newspaper. He later found out from BBC correspondents that the person leading the protest was from the Syrian Intelligence.

He also revealed in the television interview that he was called in once by a member of Syrian State Security who told him one cannot “leave the dirty laundry out in the open” in front of the world and Syria's enemies. Ferzat replied that the laundry shouldn’t dirty in the first place.  

On his official Facebook page, Ferzat writes that he sees cartoons in his sleep, which is why he always has a pencil and notebook beside his bed. He also described the art of caricature and cartoons as highly dependent on the contradictions of everyday life, elaborating that it is in the nature of human beings to be filled with such contradictions.

Several Facebook pages have already been established in solidarity with Ferzat and have gained thousands of likes. On the other hand, his official website is currently suspended.

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