Syria Arrests Film-maker Who Helped Victims Of Government Crackdown

by
Reuters
Security forces in Syria have arrested a documentary film-maker who helped people made homeless or jobless by troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, his friends said on Friday, part of an apparent crackdown on the country's secular intelligentsia.

 The family of Syrian film producer Orwa Nyrabia said they completely lost contact with their son who had been on his way to Cairo on Friday. Security forces in Syria have arrested a documentary film-maker who helped people made homeless or jobless by troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, his friends said on Friday, part of an apparent crackdown on the country's secular intelligentsia.

Arwa Nairabiya - who founded the "Damascus Dox Box" documentary film festival - was arrested at Damascus airport on Thursday evening before boarding a plane to Cairo, fellow film-makers and relatives said.

The 35-year-old was part of a new generation of Syrian film-makers and had defied a state ban on culture before the revolt against Assad began 17 months ago.

"It seems it is a crime to establish an independent cinema movement in Syria," said fellow Syrian director Ahmad Malas, in a video statement recorded at an undisclosed location outside Syria.

"We call for freedom for Arwa Nairabiya, actor, producer and graduate of the Syrian Higher Cinema Institute who is always smiling."

One of Nairabiya's friends, speaking from Damascus on condition of anonymity, said he feared for the arrested man's safety. "We pray that Arwa gets off lightly. The regime has been brutal towards Syria's intellectuals," the friend said.

Syrian security forces, who have arrested tens of thousands of people since the uprising began, do not comment on detentions, which human rights groups say are arbitrary.

Assad has said he has introduced what he regards as far-reaching political reforms in response to pro-democracy street demonstrations, yet strict state restrictions on the freedom of speech and artistic expression have remained in place.

Three months ago, Assad's forces shot dead Bassel Shehadeh, another young film-maker who had abandoned a Fulbright scholarship in the United States to document a military crackdown on the central city of Homs.

In another incident, authorities blamed "treacherous hands" for the killing earlier this month of director Bassem Mohiedine in a Damascus suburb rocked by clashes between the military and rebels. No one claimed responsibility for his death.

In a third case, the relatives of sculptor Wael Qastoum said he died last month after being tortured in a Damascus prison.

Qastoum, a Christian from Homs, had spoken out against state repression, said a relative who asked not to be named.

Other leading cultural figures have been badly beaten - secret police agents last year assaulted Ali Farzat, the country's best known cartoonist, and broke both of his hands.

Many of the new generation of film-makers have been inspired by French-educated Syrian director Omar Amiralay, who made international award-winning films that chronicled what he regarded as Syria's demise under the Assad family's rule.

Amiralay died of natural causes aged 66 one month before the uprising broke out, having famously warned Assad that Syria "is marching steadfastly on its hooves to its own demise, after being betrayed by its rulers."