Syrian cartoonist's hands broken by attackers

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Ali Ferzat's most recent cartoon before the attack. It depicts a scale labeled "Syria" in which love weighs more than bombs.

Story by PRI's The World. Listen to audio above for full report.

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Sixty-year-old Syrian cartoonist, Ali Ferzat, was viciously attacked in Damascus on the morning of August 25.  The cartoonist, who has been drawing for government-controlled publications for over 40 years, was pulled from his car by masked gunmen. Before leaving him on the side of the road, Ferzat was beaten, and both of his hands were broken.  

"It seems 99.9 percent certain that it was the Syrian regime," says London-based writer and blogger Robin Yassin-Kassab. "The message is very clear. It's if you draw pictures against us -- you draw pictures we don't like -- we'll break your hands. "

Although the satirical cartoonist may have always been a threat to the Syrian governments of President Hafez al-Assad and his son, incumbent President Bashar al-Assad, Yassin-Kassab explains that with the conflicts of the Arab Spring, the government's response has escalated. 

Ferzat's work has responded to the heightened tension of the times. In the past, the artist has avoided drawing characters that resembled individual people, but instead he has depicted characters that fulfilled types. "So he would draw a dictatorial general type which didn't actually look like any individual that we recognize," says Yassin-Kassab. "Now he's got a little bit more explicit in recent months."

The internet has also made the cartoonist a greater threat. Ferzat's website, (www.ali-ferzat.com) cannot be censored by the government in the same way that his work in government controlled newspapers has been. 

Yassin-Kassab describes his own reaction to hearing that Ali Ferzat was attacked: "I woke up, as I have done for different reasons so many times over the last five or six months, just feeling sick and fighting back the tears because Ali Ferzat really is a great Syrian and a great Arab. He's somebody who's spoken very bravely and very accurately about patriarchy, dictatorship, occupation, class oppression, bureaucracy, hypocrisy, ignorance, and it's a tragedy that they've broken this man's hands. It kind of sums up their thuggishness and the way in which they seem intent on destroying everything that's good in Syrian and Arab society."

Read more on The World website.

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PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More about The World.

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