Syrian political cartoonist, Ali Farzat has been named journalist of the year 2011 by Reporters Without Borders for his defense of press freedom.
The international award aims to recognize journalists who continued to fight against crimes against humanity despite brutal threats.
Reporters Without Borders has awarded the prize every year since 1992 to a journalist and news commentators who made significant contribution to the defense of press freedom. The French newspaper Le Monde became a partner in the prize this year.
According to the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, Jean-François Julliard, said at the award ceremony in Paris on Wednesday: “This year we are honoring a courageous journalist who has been the victim of brutal repression by an obsolete government.
“Ali Farzat fully deserves this award. His cartoons target the abuses of a desperate regime with its back to the wall and encourage Syrians to demand their rights and to express themselves freely” Julliard added.
Burmese newspaper Weekly Eleven News has been also awarded the prize for media of the year.
Farzat, severely beaten in August, was unable to attend the ceremony, and a prominent French cartoonist Plantu read a statement on his behalf. “I would have liked to have been with you ... to take part in this beautiful event,” the statement said. “I dedicate this award to the martyrs, to those who have been injured and to those who struggle for freedom. May thanks be given to all those who have turned the Arab Spring into a victory over darkness and repression.”
The 60-year-old Syrian cartoonist rose to fame in the 1980s with his sarcastic yet non-descript images of officials, autocrats and tyrants. He later earned international recognition and the respect of many Arabs with stinging cartoons that exasperated dictators including Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and more recently, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
In 2000, Farzat launched the first independent newspaper since the country’s ruling Baath party took power in 1963. The government shut the paper in 2003, under which many articles were critical of the government or senior government officials.
Yet again this year, Farzat made headlines after drawing sarcastic cartoons comparing Syrian President Bashar Assad with Libyan ousted ruler Muammar Qaddafi.
Since then, Farzat became a harsh critic of the Assad regime, particularly after the brutal crackdowns on the country’s protest.
The artist has reported that Assad used to visit his exhibitions and encourage his work before he inherited Syria’s presidency from his father in 2000.
Farzat was attacked on August by unknown suspects who broke two fingers on his left hand, dented his right arm and had bruises around one of his eyes. He said at the time that four men attacked him as he returned home before dawn. Opposition activists accuses security forces and masked pro-regime militias of the attack.
Farzat has also received the Sakharov prize in October from the European parliament, which is awarded to campaigners for freedom.