Syrian artists standing against tyranny

27 April 2015


The nationwide uprising that swept through Syria in March 2011 has created a rift between the country’s artists and intellectuals. Some of whom took the regime’s side, some preferred to remain neutral, while others chose to join the revolution since its early beginnings. However, their support of the uprising has had serious repercussions: assault, threat, arrests, exile and death. This is a list of Syrian artists who have been punished for resisting dictatorship.

By Mohammad Dibo   |   FREEMUSE  INSIGHT 

Artists murdered during the revolution

• Bassel Shehadeh (1984-2012)
Shehadeh was a Syrian filmmaker and computer engineer. He was one of the first participants in the revolution. Shehadeh was arrested in a crackdown on the artists’ and intellectuals’ demonstration on 13 June 2011. He was a pioneer in organising protests in Hama, Zabadani and Rastan. Shehadeh ended his journey in Homs, where he was filming a movie titled ‘I Will Cross Tomorrow’. On 28 May 2012, Shehadeh was killed during a government assault on the neighborhood of al-Safsafa in Homs, where he was buried according to his will.

• Wael Qastun (1966-2014)
Qastun is a Syrian sculptor from Marmarita, Homs. Qastun’s sculptures focused on women and contemporary women’s issues. His artworks were exhibited in a number of art galleries. On 24 June 2014, Qastun was killed under torture in the military security branch in Homs. His family were asked to pick up his body from the military hospital of Homs.

• Fadi Murad (1980-2014)
Murad was a Syrian painter who was detained on 8 January 2013, while returning from his work on the Mezze highway, in central Damascus. His family had no information on his whereabouts, until, on 7 April 2014, they received news of his death under torture in the military security branch in Damascus.

• Imad Lathqani (1953-2014)
Lathqani was a Syrian painter from the city of Hama. He graduated from Damascus University with an art degree in 1979. He received his PhD in the philosophy of art and artistic criticism from the Imperial Academy of Arts in Leningrad (Repin Institute) in 1986. Lathqani was a full-time professor at the faculty of architecture at Tishreen University, Latakia. He participated in dozens of art exhibitions, both individual and collective, in Syria, Lebanon and Russia.
On the night of 23 July 2013, the artist was found dead in his apartment in Latakia.

Artists disappeared or still detained

• Adnan Zira’i
Zira’i is an actor and writer famous for the ‘Spray Man’ skit, an episode of the sketch-comedy show Buq’at Daw (Spotlight). The episode that was aired on state television before 2011, sparked a wave of spray men and women, who sprayed slogans of freedom on the walls during the Syrian revolution.

Zira’i was arrested on 26 February 2012 by the state security branch in Aleppo. He spent one month in two different security branches until he was transferred to the state security branch in Kafr Sousa, Damascus.

Legally, Adnan Zira’i, who has not been officially charged with any crime, should have been released on 26 April 2012. Nevertheless, he continues to be held in Kafr Sousa to this day. Furthermore, there is reliable evidence of torture against Zira’i, according to testimonies of inmates who were with him.

• Leila Awad
Awad is a Syrian actress from Aleppo and a member of the Syndicate of Syrian Artists. The actress attended numerous sit-ins and solidarity campaigns in support of the Syrian revolution. She also collaborated with fellow actress Yara Sabri in documenting the names of victims of arbitrary detention in Syria.

On 11 December 2013, Awad was arrested at the Syrian-Lebanese borders, upon returning from Germany to see her only son. She was taken to the state security branch in Damascus, and ultimately to the Adra prison on 26 December 2013, where she is still being held.

On 17 January 2014, Awad was tried in the court of terrorism, where she was convicted of the following charges:
– Leaving the country illegally
– Meeting with opposition forces abroad
– Speaking against the regime and the state in her Facebook posts

• Samar Kokash
Kokash (b. Damascus, 1972) graduated with a degree of acting from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in 1995 in Damascus. Her parents are renowned Syrian director Alaa al-Din Kokash and Syrian actress Malak Sukkar. She has contributions in theatre, radio and television.

Kokash was arrested on December 2013, by security branch 215 in Damascus, with no information on her whereabouts. On January 17, 2014, she was sentenced to 5 years in Adra prison by the court of terrorism on charges of “financing and promoting terrorism”.

• Zaki Cordello
Cordello is a Syrian actor and director, he graduated from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in 1984. Zaki was the former director of the Red Theater in Damascus. He had also worked at the National Theater for four years, with 20 theatrical performances. Codrello is considered a master of “shadow theater” in Syria. After his mentor, Abdul-Razzaq Thahabi, passed away in 1993, Cordello took it upon himself to preserve this traditional art.

On 11 August 2012, he was arrested at his apartment in Dummar, a suburb of Damascus, with his son, actor Mehyar Cordello, his cousin and a friend. After their laptops were confiscated, the four men were taken to an unknown destination, with no information on their whereabouts whatsoever.

• Nizar Jassem al-Hamad
Al-Hamad is an animation artist with a degree from the Institute of Applied Arts in Damascus. He had been working as an assistant director in the animated series Adventure Island, when he was arrested in Damascus on 21 July 2012. There has been no information on his whereabouts since then.

• Muhammed Tulaimat
Tulaimat (b. Homs, 1941) is a Syrian modernist painter. He was kidnapped under mysterious circumstances on the way from his apartment to his studio in Uras, east of Homs.

The artist’s wife paid six million Syrian pounds as ransom for her husband’s captors, who stole the money and disappeared, without returning Tulaimat. The Independent Assembly of Syrian Artists reported that the artist’s office and farm were ransacked soon after, along with hundreds of his paintings.

Formerly detained artists

• Tareq Abdul-Hai
Abdul-Hai (b. Sweida, 1967) is a Syrian painter, sculptor and photographer. He graduated with a degree of fine arts from Damascus University. He is also a member of the International Federation of Photographic Art, a member of the Photographic Art Club in Syria and a co-editor of a magazine published by the Federation of Syrian Artists in Sweida.

Abdul-Hai was arrested by regime forces on three separate occasions. His first arrest was on 23 August 2011. The second was on 4 November 2012. He was also detained on 17 March 2013, to be released a month later, on 15 April 2013. He is currently based in his hometown Sweida.

• Orwa Nyrabia
Nyrabia (b. Damascus, 1977) is a Syrian documentary film producer, actor, writer and co-founder of DOX BOX International Documentary Film Festival in Syria. The fifth edition of the festival was canceled in protest of the Syrian regime’s crackdown on protesters during the Syrian uprising. Nyrabia was arrested at Damascus International Airport by Syrian authorities on 23 August 2012. He was released on 12 September 2012.

• Kifah Ali Deeb
Ali Deeb (b. Damascus,1982) is an award-winning painter and writer from Damascus. She was arrested on multiple occasions, the latest of which was in August 2013 after meeting with Mr. Mukhtar al-Lamani, the Damascus-based assistant of UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi. She was released hours later under pressure from the UN office. After receiving death threats, Ali Deeb left the country secretly to Lebanon, the UAE and then Germany, where she currently resides.

• Youssef Abdelke
Abdelke (b. Qamishli, 1951) is a renowned Syrian artist. In the late 1970s, he spent almost two years in prison for his involvement in the Communist Action Party. He studied printmaking at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus in 1976. He obtained a doctorate in Fine Arts at the University of Paris VIII in 1989. In 2005, he was allowed to return to Syria after twenty-five years of forced exile.

On 18 July 2013, he was arrested at a checkpoint of the State Security Branch near Tartus, a coastal city in northern Syria. He was released a month later on 22 August 2013.

• Mohammed Al Rashi
Al Rashi is a Syrian artist and actor. He joined the anti-government protest movement early on, participating in a demonstration against the regime since 17 July 2011. He was detained on 8 December 2011 and released two days later. The artist is still based in Damascus.

• Nidal Hasan
Hasan (b. Tartus, 1973) is a Syrian filmmaker. He was detained for three days during the artists’ and intellectuals’ demonstration on 13 June 2011.

The Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival had invited Hasan as an official guest in November 2011. He was arrested on 3 November 2011 while attempting to renew his passport to participate in the event. Hasan’s film “Three Stories of Life, Love and Death” had its world premier on 6 November 2011, while the filmmaker was in prison. Hasan was released on 22 December 2011.

• May Skaf
Skaf is a celebrated actress from Damascus, who starred in a long list of television series and movies. She joined the revolution from an early stage and was arrested briefly with a number of Syrian artists and intellectuals at the Midan demonstration, on 13 June 2011.

Syrian security forces detained Skaf again in 2013, and she was forcibly removed from the country to Jordan, where she currently resides.

• Rima Fleihan
Fleihan is a screenplay writer and women’s rights activist. A month after the uprising began in March 2011, Rima Fleihan issued a petition condemning the crackdown on Daraa and asking for humanitarian access to deliver food, water and milk to suffering children in the city. Up to 700 people signed the petition, including writers, directors and journalists.

On 13 July 2011, she was arrested in the artists’ and intellectuals’ demonstration in Midan district in Damascus. She was released after three days. Under threat, Fleihan was forced to flee the country to Jordan on foot, on 26 September 2011.

• Jalal al-Tawil
Al-Tawil is a Syrian actor from Damascus. He was one of the first actors to join the uprising, participating in the earliest demonstrations in Midan and Qabun districts in Damascus. The artist was brutally assaulted by regime forces on his way back from a protest on 19 December 2011.

Security forces also arrested the actor after ambushing him at the Syrian-Jordanian border while attempting to flee the country. After being wounded by a bullet to the shoulder, al-Tawil was held at the military security branch in Daraa for ten days. He was released in January 2012, after the authorities forced him to appear on state television.

• Mohammad Omar Oso
Oso is an award-winning television actor and writer. On August 25, 2012, Security agents arrested Oso with members of his family, from their home in the western Damascus district of Mezze. He was released shortly after.

• Reem Ghazzi
Ghazzi (b. Damascus, 1973) is an actress and documentary filmmaker. She graduated from Damascus University in 1994 with a degree in English literature. She hold a BA in theatrical criticism from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus.

She was arrested by the political security branch in Damascus on 27 November 2011. The artist was tried on charges of “undermining the prestige of the state, supporting and participating in demonstrations and being a member of a secret society”. She was released on bail on 8 January 2012.

Firas Fayyad
Fayyad is a Syrian director who was arrested on April 30, 2011. He was released shortly after, only to be stopped at the Damascus International Airport in November of the same year. He was found innocent on charges of “spreading false news that could weaken the national morale, and belonging to an opposition party”, and was released on 20 February 2012.

• Guevara Namer
Namer is a photographer and film producer. Namer graduated from the Damascus Institute of Applied Arts in 2007 then joined the theater studies department at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus.

She was arrested in the Midan district demonstration of artists and intellectuals on 13 July 2011 and released shortly after. On 7 December of the same year, she was stopped yet again at Damascus International Airport on her way to attend the Dubai International Film Festival. She was released a week later on 15 December 2011.

• Itab al-Hammoud
Al-Hammoud is a Syrian painter from the town of Qurayya, Sweida. She was arrested at the Syrian-Lebanese borders by the state security branch on 16 December and released on 29 December 2014.

• Abeer Farhoud
Farhoud (b. Damascus, 1987) is a Syrian painter and sculptor who graduated from the school of fine arts, in 2009.

Farhoud was physically assaulted during a candle-light vigil for Syrian martyrs in Damascus during the early days of the uprising. On December 2012, she was arrested at a Damascus cafe during a training session with six other people. She was held at the Military Intelligence Branch 215 until her release on 10 March 2013.

• Ruaa Jaafar
Jaafar (b. Salamiyah, 1988) is a Syrian painter who graduated from the school of arts in Sweida in 2010.

On 21 November 2012, Ruaa Jaafar, along with Rima Dali, Kinda and Lubna Zaour, dressed in bridal gowns and stood at the famous Medhat Pasha market in the heart of the Syrian capital, raising a red banner that read “Stop the killing, we want to build a country for all Syrians”. The four young women were arrested, to be released in an exchange of prisoners between the regime and the opposition on 9 January 2013.

• Hazem Waked
Waked is a Syrian painter from the province of Sweida. On 10 January 2014, security forces raid Waked’s apartment in Dummar looking for his friend, activist Maisa Saleh who had fled the country. He was arrested with Maryam Hayed, a volunteer in the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and journalist Shiyar Khalil. The three activists were forced to appear on state television, and “confess” to acting on orders of foreign powers. Waked was released on 18 December 2014.

• Malas twins
Mohammad and Ahmad Malas are two theatrical artists. The two brothers supported the uprising since its early stage and were arrested in the artists’ and intellectuals’ demonstration in Damascus in July 2011. After a series of assaults and harassments the twins fled Damascus to Paris where they are based at the moment.


About the author of the article
Mohammad Dibo, current editor-in-chief of SyriaUntold, is a Syrian poet, writer and researcher interested in Syrian culture and economy. Mohammad’s latest work is an autobiographical book, ‘Like He Who Witnesses His Own Death’, about his experience in prison during the early days of the Syrian uprising. He is a regular contributor in many Arab and international newspapers.

Translation from Arabic by Rua Zayat.

syriauntold-logo140This article is part of a Freemuse  INSIGHT  Series edited by Marie Korpe. It was published in April 2015 by Freemuse in collaboration with SyriaUntold.

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