Marco Werman: Several days ago a human rights group devoted to protecting political cartoonists around the globe reported that a detained Syrian cartoonist was dead. But once that news was posted, many people responded via Facebook and Twitter that no, he's alive, and still in prison. How to verify? Well, that is the problem. The World's cartoon editor, Carol Hills, is with us. Carol, what is going on here?
Carol Hills: Well, it's really tough because what happened was, this cartoonist, his name is Akram Raslan, he was a cartoonist in Hama. He worked for a government newspaper, as everyone in Asad's Syria does. So Raslan started doing anti-Asad cartoons but on his own time, and he posted them on Facebook. And that's where the Asad regime saw them, and he was arrested in October 2012. No one's heard from him since. Not his family, not anyone. And so, this report comes along five days ago from a human rights group, as you mentioned. People say, oh no he's still alive. So the issue is Akram Raslan is in a security prison, he's not in a regular prison, so no one can find out. Meanwhile the Twitter's sphere, social media, everybody's going back and forth. But no one can really verify it in a way that will satisfy people.
Werman: So how did the reports that Akram Raslan is dead come about in the first place?
Hills: Well, Cartoonists Rights International, they have very good sources inside Syria and outside Syria, and they got word that Raslan had been executed. That there was a show trial maybe in June or July and after he was convicted in the sham trial they're leading him to prison and he was pulled out from the line along with some others who were arrested and killed. And so that's what they posted. They made it conditional, they said this is what they've heard, but it's very difficult to verify it. And so, I decided to call another person. I made a bunch of calls today and one was to a Syrian journalist who's now living in Norway, Massoud Ako. And he is a human rights activist and he also has heard from his sources and his sources talked to political prisoners who had been released who said, he's dead. And they couldn't describe to him how he died, but that he's dead. He could have died from an illness, he could have been executed, it's completely unclear. But this person told another activist inside Syria, an anonymous activist, that Akram Raslan is dead, but we don't know how. But it's just not enough to satisfy those on the outside and the really sad difficult thing in this is that Akram Raslan's family, they are not accepting that he's dead. They're saying, no he's still alive, and other people are too and so we can't get any verification.
Werman: It also certainly can't help that Akram Raslan is not a widely known cartoonist. He used to write and draw for state media in Syria, Assad's own media, then as you say started criticizing the stated. I mean, how common is that story among Syrian cartoonists these days?
Hills: Well, it's interesting you recall Ali Farzat, a famous Syrian caricaturist. So Ali Farzat, Akram Raslan, they worked for government run newspapers, both of them at a certain point once the uprising started, started to lose any king of coding or symbols in their cartoons and just went for it and started criticizing very bluntly Bashar al-Assad. And in Ali Farzat's case, he was beaten savagely. He now lives outside of Syria, he recovered. In the case of Akram Raslan, we don't know, it's just not clear how this particular case or many others will be resolved.
Werman: Carol Hills follows political cartoons and other topics here at The World. You can see more of Akram Raslan's work, which has landed him in trouble, that's at PRI.org. Carol, thank you.
Hills: Thanks Marco.
Do you enjoy our audio? Please help support it with a donation.