Renowned Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat, whose satirical drawings targeting corruption and lampooning dictators have been published worldwide, received the 2012 Gebran Tueni Award Wednesday, an annual prize given jointly by WAN-IFRA and Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper that honours an outstanding individual from the news media in the Arab region.
The award recognises Mr Farzat’s unprecedented contribution to freedom of expression and acknowledges his unwavering commitment, despite physical attack, to exposing the excesses of power through his cartoons.
The ceremony took place in Beirut on 11 December on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the murder of Gebran Tueni, the Lebanese publisher and a leading WAN-IFRA Board member who was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005. Mr Farzat was unable to collect the award in person due to security concerns, but joined the ceremony via Skype to give his thanks to An-Nahar and praise the memory of its iconic late publisher.
“His cartoons transcend borders, cultures and political divides: they speak a thousand words on behalf of human indignity,” said Lars Munch, Director of Denmark’s JP/Politikens, accepting the award on Mr Farzat’s behalf. “He has no intention of laying his pen to rest.”
The Gebran Tueni Award honours a media professional who demonstrates the values incarnated in Mr Tueni and that made him such a powerful figure in Middle Eastern media and Lebanese politics. Mr Farzat’s outstanding dedication to his art as a tool for pushing the boundaries of freedom of expression - in Syria and elsewhere - has made him one of the Arab world’s most recognisable cultural figures.
“This prize means a lot to me as an artist because it signifies that my voice has been heard. It also gives me faith that I am on the right path and that my ideas and ideals are getting through to the people,” Mr Farzat said.
The cartoonist fled Syria after a brutal attack by suspected state security forces in August 2011 left him with two broken hands, a “warning” against continuing his critical work. Fortunately, Mr Farzat’s injuries healed and he has been able to resume his potent attacks against the worsening situation in his home country.
In over four decades of cartooning, Mr Farzat has published thousands of caricatures across Syrian, Arab and international newspapers, including France’s Le Monde. He has received numerous international awards including the prestigious Dutch Prince Claus Award for "achievement in culture and development".
In 2011, he was joint recipient of the European parliament Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought along with other prominent ‘Arab Spring’ activists.
In 2001, Mr Farzat founded an independent newspaper - Syria’s first since 1963 - during a period of measured liberalism referred to as the ‘Damascus Spring’ following the death of President Hafez al-Assad in 2000. Self-financed, mixing satirical cartooning with critical reports on corruption and official incompetence, Addomari (the Lamplighter) was published for two years before government pressure, financial hardship and the censor’s pen forced it to close.
As the on-going Syrian uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad grew, Mr Farzat became more direct in his anti-regime cartoons, specifically targeting government figures. In an interview he gave to the BBC in March 2012, he resolutely dismissed the growing criticism from pro-government factions. “I was born to be a cartoonist, to oppose, to have differences with regimes that do… bad things. This is what I do."
“It is a great honour for us that Mr Farzat accepted this nomination,” said Nayla Tueni, Gebran’s daughter and An-Nahar’s current CEO. “His beliefs are ours. His struggle is not strange to us. He embodies freedom of expression and the values of a free press, for despite the brutal attack he suffered he did not falter.”