Still recovering from violent intimidation in August by men either employed by or at least supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, political cartoonist Ali Ferzat was informed last week he would be awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, along with four other members of Arab Spring, a revolutionary movement spreading through multiple countries of the Middle East and the Arab world. It is the first time someone from the world of comics* has won this award, which was started in 1988 by the European Parliament to honor those who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought. The first recipient was the legendary activist Nelson Mandela. The award, which includes 50,000 Euros, will be given on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011. The organization released the following statement about their selection of Ferzat:
Mr Farzat, a political satirist, is a well-known critic of the Syrian regime and its leader President Bashar al-Assad. Mr Farzat became more straightforward in his cartoons when the March 2011 uprisings began. His caricatures ridiculing Bashar al-Assad’s rule helped to inspire revolt in Syria. In August 2011, the Syrian security forces beat him badly, breaking both his hands as “a warning”, and confiscated his drawings.
The Agence France-Presse spoke with Ferzat about receiving the award. His statement was published in The Daily Star of Lebanon:
“I share this award with all who are deprived of freedom and democracy,” said Farzat, who spoke with AFP by telephone from Kuwait, adding that the prize “spreads hope for the future.”
“Freedom is a message that crosses generations. I dedicate this award to all the martyrs who gave their life for freedom and who have learned the culture of liberty,” he added.
“I salute them, as well as those who take to the streets, everywhere in the world, searching for freedom, democracy and dignity,” the cartoonist continued.
Syria has been in the midst of an uprising since March, with protesters demanding the resignation of President al-Assad and the adoption of more political and personal freedoms. It is estimated over 3,000 civilians have been killed with over 30,000 arrested by al-Assad’s forces so far.
(via The Comics Reporter, who relentlessly covers this and other international political cartoons issues)
(*Since most political cartoons are single-panel, and thus sequential-less, some don’t consider them true comics. I’m kind of torn on the matter, but Ferzat’s story and efforts are too significant to get hung up on semantics.)