It looks like the worst has come to pass for missing Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan.
According to Souriatnapress, Raslan died in the spring of 2013 while in the custody of the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Damascus-based news service cited an eyewitness who claimed Raslan passed away in a jail hospital after being subjected to severe torture. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights also released a statement confirming Raslan’s death.
“Akram Raslan is a martyr, and a witness to the fact that the regime and Islamic State are two sides of one axe,” cartoonist Ali Ferzat wrote on his Facebook page following the news. “They both represent the death of art and of thought.”
Raslan was arrested by Assad’s mukhabarat agents on October 2, 2012, while working at the Al-Fida newspaper in Hama. Then 34 years old, he had been criticizing the Syrian regime since the 2011 siege of Daraa through cartoons — he published more than 300 of them. One shows the suited president grinning devilishly by a pile of bloody bodies; another depicts him as an anaconda strangling Syria to death. The cartoon that purportedly got him jailed has Assad surrounded by flames and holding a sign that reads, “Assad, or the country burns.”
According to Al Bawaba, Raslan’s family never heard from him again after his arrest. His disappearance spawned a Facebook group, Freedom for the Syrian Caricaturist Akram Raslan, and supporters named a satirical magazine dedicated to covering Syrian issues after him. In 2013, the organization Cartoonists’ Rights Network International (CRNI) gave Raslan its Courage in Editorial Cartooning prize in absentia.
The tragic news of his death confirms what many suspected. CRNI stated in 2013 that it thought Raslan had been executed after a rigged trial, but his death couldn’t be confirmed, and many held out hope.
And some may still. Michael Cavna reports in the Washington Post that “sources tell Comic Riffs that the family has not confirmed Mr. Raslan’s death, and that within the past year, Syria told the United Nations that Raslan was alive.”