Syrian cartoonist finally able to pick up Sakharov prize in person after months in hiding

His critical drawings not only turned Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat into one of the Arab Spring's major figures, but also into a target. After masked gunmen broke his hands in August 2011, he spent months in hiding, making him unable to travel to Brussels to receive the 2011 Sakharov Prize when it was awarded to him. Yesterday, he was finally able to accept the award in person when he took part with two other Sakharov laureates in a debate on "Voices for Democracy: Citizenship in the Making".
Awarding the prize to Mr Ferzat, the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz stated: "Mr Ferzat has managed with his piercing irony and his sharp pencil to give a fatal blow to the credibility of the al-Assad's regime and his circle. He has laid bare the nature of a regime which is a mixture of paranoia, violence and blind self-interest. He also showed with his personal example how freedom prevails over fear."
Later, during the annual Sakharov Prize Network evening debate at the European Parliament in Brussels, Mr Ferzat said: "The Syrian regime fails to recognise freedom. God created humans' yearning for freedom and no one can take that away from us. I'm very proud to receive this token of recognition."
Together with 2011 Sakharov Prize laureates Asmaa Mahfouz, from Egypt, and Ahmed El-Senussi from Libya, Mr Ferzat shared his experiences, memories and hopes for freedom and democracy. They answered questions from participants, but also from people around the world, who participated in the debate on Facebook and Twitter.
"We want to show solidarity for your people in their fight for democracy and freedom following the transitions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. These transitions have created tremendous expectations on both sides of Mediterranean, but the events in Syria are one reminder that dreams can turn bad," said Foreign Affairs Committee chair Elmar Brok (EPP), adding that, "Now we need to discuss how EU can support democratic changes and political dialogue."
"The human rights situation remains challenging in all Arab Spring countries," said Human rights Subcommittee chair Barbara Lochbihler (Greens/EFA), citing the death penalty imposed on 14 people in Egypt. "Therefore it has been reassuring to learn that last year's laureates have not lost their will to continue their fight for the freedom of thought," she added. (EU Neighbourhood Info)
Read more
Press release
EP President Schulz – statement
EP debate – press release
Sakharov Prize webpage
EU Neighbourhood Info Centre webpage – Syria

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