Prominent Syrian cartoonist and human rights advocate Ali Ferzat was hospitalized for serious injuries Thursday morning after being kidnapped near his Damascus home by a group of masked gunmen believed to be part of the government's security forces under President Bashar al-Assad. The gunmen beat the 60-year-old Ferzat, singed his beard, broke both of his hands, covered his head with a bag and dumped him by the side of the road, threatening the cartoonist that the attack was "just a warning."
Though they often deal with controversial social and political issues, by American standards Ferzat's cartoons are visually tame and contain the kind of all-ages gags one might read in a newspaper's sports or business pages. Ferzat's latest cartoon compared Assad to the recently ousted Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, depicting Syria's president as a hitchhiker. The simplicity of the gag underscores both the horror of Ferzat's attack and also his medium of choice's power as a tool for mass communication:
According to The Washington Post, attempts by Syria's government to quash political dissent have escalated over the past several weeks, namely among writers, actors and other expressive professionals. Opposition activists say that more than 2,200 dissidents have been killed since mid-March alone.
The White House condemned Assad's regime in a recent statement by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, citing Ferzat's attack and related violations of human rights. "While making empty promises about dialogue with the Syrian people, the Assad regime continues to carry out brutal attacks against peaceful Syrians trying to exercise their universal right to free expression," Nuland continued. "We demand that the Assad regime immediately stop its campaign of terror through torture, illegal imprisonment and murder."
"We are all Ali Ferzat," his Arabic-language Facebook fan page reads, a reminder that freedom of expression is not to be taken for granted in a world where rulers can be easily stirred by the commanding simplicity of a gifted cartoonist's work.
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