It's a tale of two worlds colliding: social media and a war-torn country ruled by a dictator. Syrian political cartoonist Akram Raslan was arrested and detained in Hama and thrown into a Syrian security prison in October 2012. Since then, no one on the outside has heard from him - not family, friends or colleagues.
Several days ago, Cartoonists' Rights Network International (CRNI) posted a notice that they had received information that Raslan was dead. The CRNI report described a show trial this past July, followed by an execution. Raslan's death was also reported by the Damascus-based news service Souriatna.
"He is reported to be in a mass grave somewhere near Damascus," the CRNI report read. "Our reliable, but for obvious reasons anonymous, sources further allege that the murder of Akram [Raslan] and other condemned prisoners was carried out by Mohammad Nassif Kheir Bek, currently the Deputy Vice President for Security Affairs in Syria."
Cartoonists' Rights Network International, which authored the report, has been involved in the case of Akram Raslan since he was detained in 2012. Akram Raslan was the recipient of the organization's Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning for 2013.
The human rights group has good sources in and outside Syria. But there's one problem. On Facebook and Twitter, people are saying that Akram Raslan is still alive. And Raslan's own family doesn't believe the reports that Akram is dead. Following the initial report by Cartoon Rights Network International, Michael Cavna of the blog Comic Riffs spoke to CRNI's director Robert Russell and afterward added some clarification. "CRNI’s report of Raslan’s death, Russell tells us Sunday, is based on 'a reliable source close to [his] family.' Russell notes, however: 'The family is still saying that they don’t know [what happened], and that nobody has told them anything.'." Robert Russell has appealed for more information about Akran Raslan on the Facebook page of The Syrian Journalists Association.
Massoud Akko is involved in the Syrian Journalists Association. He's a Kurdish journalist from Syria who went into exile in Norway in 2010. Akko says his sources in Syria have alerted him that Akram Raslan is dead, though no cause of death is given. "Raslan is in a prison run by Syria's security services, not a regular prison, so we can't confirm anything," Akko says.