Syria unrest: Famed cartoonist Ali Ferzat 'beaten'

Ali Ferzat in hospital - picture released 25 August 2011 Ali Ferzat's cartoons have increasingly targeted President Assad and other Syrian officials

One of the best-known cartoonists in the Arab world has been beaten up by Syrian security forces, activists say.

Ali Ferzat, whose work is critical of the government, was forced from his car in Damascus and badly beaten.

The attack comes after 11 civilians and eight soldiers were reportedly killed in different incidents across Syria.

The UN says more than 2,200 people have been killed as security forces crack down on anti-government protests that began in mid-March.

The demonstrators are demanding the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has been in power for 40 years.

In one of his latest cartoons, Ali Ferzat shows President Assad sweatily clutching a suitcase while he tries to hitch a lift with the Libyan leader, Col Muammar Gaddafi, who is furiously driving a getaway car.

The Syrian cartoonist has produced a stream of images like this in the past few months that have directly attacked the Syrian leader, says the BBC's Arab affairs analyst Sebastian Usher.

Mirror-image cartoon

In one, President Assad is shown patiently white-washing the shadow of a huge security thug on a wall, while the real man stands untouched. The caption reads: "Lifting the emergency law".

Analysis

For 40 years, Ali Ferzat has been skewering the mismatch between rhetoric and reality in the Arab world, says our analyst.

In his meticulous drawings, mostly without captions, he has shown the overbearing brutality of bureaucracy, the hypocrisy of leaders, and myriad other injustices of daily life that have resonated across the Middle East.

When President Assad first took power, Ali Ferzat was allowed to start an officially-sanctioned satirical magazine as part of what was intended to be a new era of openness. But it was soon closed down.

What has changed in his work as the Syrian uprising has grown is his readiness to target real people - President Assad above all - rather than archetypes of unfettered power.

His beating-up by security forces shows that he has hit home and that the authorities' tolerance for dissent is touching zero.

Another shows Mr Assad flexing in uniform in front of a mirror that reflects back a dominant, muscular image, overshadowing his puny figure.

Syrian activists say Mr Ferzat was forced out of his car before dawn in Damascus, beaten and dumped at the side of a road.

Pictures of Mr Ferzat in hospital showed his face bruised and heavy bandages on both hands.

Mr Ferzat's beating shows that he has hit home and that the authorities have no more tolerance for dissent, says our Arab affairs analyst.

Activist groups say Syria's military have renewed their focus on anti-government protesters in the east of the country, with tanks entering the cities of Shuhail and Deir al-Zour.

"Initial reports by residents describe tens of tanks firing randomly as they stormed the town [Shuhail] at dawn," Reuters quoted a local activist as saying.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 civilians were killed across Syria on Wednesday, most of them in Homs province.

State news agency Sana said eight soldiers were killed in two attacks on the military, also in Homs province.

UN visit

Most foreign journalists have been barred from Syria, making it difficult to verify reports from local activists and officials.

A UN humanitarian delegation is winding up a five-day assessment mission - the first of its kind in Syria - that has visited many of the country's trouble spots.

In some places, the team was mobbed by demonstrators, says the BBC's Jim Muir, reporting from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon.

Activists said security forces opened fire on crowds in the city of Homs on Monday and in Talbisa on Wednesday after the UN team left, killing several people in Homs.

The UN team's visit was not reported at all by Syrian state TV, our correspondent says.

As well as civilians, human rights groups say 500 soldiers have been killed and thousands arrested since March. The government has blamed the unrest on "armed criminal gangs".

Western nations have called on the UN to impose sanctions against Mr Assad and his ruling circle.

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