Political cartoonist paying a heavy price

Political cartoonist paying a heavy price

DCMF in collaboration with CRNI honoured the bravery and courage of Syrian cartoonist Akram Reslan by presenting him with this year's Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning.
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Cartoon by Akram Reslan

Syrian cartoonist Akram Reslan has been held in detention since October last year when Syrian authorities seized him from his office at the newspaper Al Fidaa.

Doha Centre for Media Freedom has repeatedly denounced Reslan’s arrest and urged the authorities to drop all charges against him and release him from custody.

“In recognition of his extraordinary courage in confronting the forces of violence with cartoons that told only the truth,” Reslan has been presented this year’s Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning by Cartoon Rights Network International. DCMF collaborated with CRNI to honor Reslan for his bravery and extended support for his immediate release. DCMF is committed to recognising the power of cartoons around the world through its various programs such as the World Press Freedom Day Cartoon Contest.

The following is an op-ed by CRNI's Executive Director, Robert Russell for the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper discussing Reslan’s plight under the Assad regime.

A young Syrian man has been honored for his courage in the face of unthinkable terror, torture, and hopelessness but he was not there to receive his award.  For the last seven months Akram Reslan has been in prison where he has been tortured, terrorised and subjected to frequent interrogations. 

While tens of thousands of Syrians are suffering unspeakable deprivations because of the civil war there, it's easy to become desensitized simply because of the scope and complexity of the tragedy. It might be useful for us to focus on one person.  But first a little background.

"Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand"

For twenty years Cartoonists Rights Network International has been the world's only human rights and free speech organization dedicated exclusively to the protection of political cartoonists who find themselves in trouble because of the power and influence of their work.  It may come as a surprise that cartoonists drawing these funny pictures of the world's political players, could find themselves in trouble. But when the political players are murderous tyrants, religious fanatics, or even desperate drug lords the risk to people like cartoonists becomes understandable. As Mark Twain once said, "against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand." The tyrant might be able to call out an army to quell a rebellion in the streets, but against his own people laughing at him, there's no defense. The power of the pen is nowhere more powerful than in the hands of a daring cartoonist.

Cartoonist Akram Reslan knew the risks when he started drawing Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad as a brutal, ruthless dictator. 

Broke Ferzat's fingers

Two years ago another Syrian cartoonist, Ali Ferzat, was kidnapped, driven to the outskirts of Damascus and brutally assaulted because of the growing popularity of his cartoons criticizing Assad.  As the goons were finishing their work they broke his fingers, telling him that his broken hands would assure he never drew another cartoon embarrassing the big boss.

When this attack became public, political cartoonists and journalists all over the world responded with an unprecedented flood of anti-Assad cartoons, editorials and newspaper articles.  The regime paid a heavy public relations price for the attack on Ferzat. This time, instead of an extrajudicial beating during the dark of night, the regime chose to trump up charges of sedition against the cartoonist. The only evidence against him will be the cartoons he has drawn that embarrass Bashar Al-Assad and his minions.  Other writers and intellectuals are being sent to this trumped up court facing imaginary charges where one's guilt is assured by simply being there.

Reslan's release

CRNI, as part of a broad ranging strategy to help Reslan get out of danger, wrote a letter to the Syrian Ambassador in Washington asking that the government of Assad drop all charges against Reslan and all other prisoners of conscience.  While Reslan's then imminent trial was delayed indefinitely, we have unconfirmed but reliable information that additional charges of being a spy for the CIA and Israel were then leveled against him. On June 29, at the Little America Hotel, we honoured Reslan with our 13th annual Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning. 

We will continue to work in joint consultation with other human rights and free speech organizations to sue for Reslan's safety and his release.  Perhaps in 2014 he will be able to attend our annual event and accept his award then.

For the last 20 years our organisation has continually fought to keep these cutting edge free speech soldiers out of danger.  As important to keeping them safe is assuring that they continue to be productive, fearless commentators on the political realities of the day.   

Cartoonists are constantly protecting your free speech rights one pointed, funny and subversive cartoon at a time. 


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