Renowned Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat, whose satirical drawings targeting corruption and lampooning dictators have been published worldwide, has been awarded the 2012 Gebran Tueni Award, the annual prize of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) 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 award to Mr Farzat will be presented in Beirut on 11 December on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the murder of Gebran Tueni, the Lebanese publisher who was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005.
The award honours a media professional who demonstrates the values incarnated in Mr Tueni: attachment to freedom of the press, courage, leadership, ambition, and high managerial and professional standards. 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," said Mr Farzat, who 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.
"I would like to thank everyone who supported my nomination for the Gebran Tueni Award. I truly appreciate the great work done by WAN-IFRA and An-Nahar in defending and fighting for a free press and the right to freedom of expression," he continued.
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.
Following the death of President Hafez al-Assad in 2001, and during a period of measured liberalism referred to as the 'Damascus Spring', Mr Farzat founded an independent newspaper, Syria's first since 1963. 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."
In making the award, WAN-IFRA said: "Ali Farzat's biting wit and unfaltering commitment to exposing the excesses of power have made him the scourge of dictators and corrupt regimes across the Arab world. His cartoons have become icons of resistance and universal symbols for freedom of expression that resonate worldwide. This award is testimony to Mr Farzat's courage and determination to stand up to oppression as a leading figure in a generation that is unafraid to speak out against injustice."
Gebran Tueni was a unique figure in the World Association of Newspapers for almost twenty years, as a leading member of its Press Freedom Committee, a Board member for more than a decade, a regular participant in missions to press freedom 'hot spots' and a constant adviser and support to the leadership of the organisation on Arab and press freedom issues. WAN-IFRA and the Tueni family created the award to encourage other courageous and independent publishers, editors and newspapers in the Arab world.
Speaking on behalf of her family's newspaper, An-Nahar, its current director Nayla Tueni, Gebran's daughter, said: "It is a great honour for us that Mr Farzat accepted this nomination. 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. On the contrary, he continued his march because the principles he believes in are too important to him, as they are for the whole free world. As they are too for us here at An-Nahar, and for which Gebran Tuéni paid the price with his life."