Syrian forces beat up political cartoonist Ali Ferzat
Ferzat, who had become increasingly critical of Bashar al-Assad's regime, found bleeding at side of
· Nour Ali
· Thursday 25 August 2011 19.36 BST
Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat lies injured at a hospital in
Syrian forces beat up a prominent Syrian political cartoonist and left him bleeding on the side of a road, in the latest episode of a campaign to quash dissent against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Ali Ferzat, 60, is one of the Arab world's most famous cultural figures, and his drawings have pushed at the boundaries of freedom of expression in Syria.
The attack on Ferzat came as the Iranian leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called for a dialogue between Assad and the opposition to bring a peaceful end to the protests.
Working from a gallery in central
In the early hours of Thursday, masked men seized Ferzat from the street and forced him in to a van. A relative has said that Ferzat's attackers targeted his hands, breaking them both, and told him it was "just a warning" before leaving him by the roadside with a bag over his head.
In a galvanising moment similar to when the corpse of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb was returned to his parents bearing marks of severe torture in May, Syrians have been expressing outrage. Messages have circulated online and some Facebook users changed their profile picture to a photograph of Ferzat in hospital.
The dissident artist, who once described himself as having a friendship with Assad, warned in 2007 of an impending "monumental crisis" if the regime did not reform. He has since become increasingly critical of the regime and its brutal crackdown.
In a recent cartoon he criticised the regime's offers of reforms, with a picture of an official with rosebuds in his speech bubble – and a turd in his head.
Another cartoon showed Assad hurriedly painting railway tracks to escape from a fast-approaching train. His most recent picture showed Assad trying to hitch a lift with outgoing Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Assad has shrugged off international condemnation and continues to use security forces and thugs to kill and arrest his opponents. Arrests and raids continued across the country on Thursday with at least five people shot dead across the country and tanks sent into al-Boukamal on the Iraqi border, activists said.
Until now Ahmadinejad has refused to intervene in
At least 2,200 people have been killed since mid-March, says the UN. On Wednesday, the EU imposed sanctions against
Outspoken cultural figures have in the past been able to get away with more criticism than others. But in recent weeks, several artists, writers and actors have been arrested.
Last month, Ibrahim al-Qashoush, the composer of a popular anti-regime song in
"At this stage, fame may be more of a danger than a protection because the regime does not want any prominent figure to come to the fore and provide a public face for the revolution," said Ammar Abdulhamid, a US-based dissident and son of Syrian actor Mona Wasif.
Ferzat was born in
In a 2001 interview with the Guardian, Ferzat recalled that before becoming president, Assad visited one of his exhibitions and said that some of the cartoons banned in
Nour Ali is the pseudonym for a journalist based in Damascus
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