Ten years after the arrest of Syrian cartoonist Akran Raslan, CPJ is unable to determine his status, whereabouts, or whether he is still alive. In early 2020, CPJ received news that he was alive, but was unable to verify the report. CPJ continues to list Raslan on the prison census as a means of holding the Syrian government accountable for his fate.
Raslan, a cartoonist for the Hama-based newspaper Al-Fedaa who contributed to several other news websites, was arrested on October 2, 2012, by intelligence officials at his office, according to news reports. His cartoons, which criticized the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, were published on his blog and several websites, including Al-Jazeera.
In June 2014, Cartoon Rights Network International (CRNI), which has closely tracked Raslan’s case, reported that the Syrian Permanent Mission to the United Nations said Raslan had been arrested for publishing cartoons that "offended the state’s prestige" and he was under investigation. In September 2015, the Syrian news outlet Souriatna Press reported Raslan died in custody a few months after his arrest, citing an unnamed detainee who was recently released from prison. According to the detainee, Raslan died in a hospital where he had been transferred for treatment after his health deteriorated in connection with torture. The report prompted a wide outpouring of support for Raslan from Syrian journalists, cartoonists, and activists. The Syrian government has not publicly confirmed or denied the Souriatna Press report.
However, a close friend of Raslan who spoke to CPJ in September 2020 on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said Raslan was charged with undermining state security and public trust, treason, and dealing with the enemy and was sentenced in 2013 by a state security court to life in prison.
In September 2022, Raslan’s friend said in a message to CPJ that he had no updates on the case.
CRNI reported that he might have been executed by the Syrian regime after being sentenced to life imprisonment on July 26, 2013. But after reports emerged in October 2013 that Raslan was still alive and his family said they could not confirm his death, CRNI amended its statement and said it was working to verify those claims. In an email to CPJ in October 2022, CRNI Executive Director Terry Anderson said the group had no new information on Raslan’s case and that “while it has never and likely will never be established with 100% certainty, we have no reason to believe that he did not die in custody.”
Raslan’s name did not appear on any of the lists of dead detainees the Syrian government released in summer 2018. However, Raslan is listed as dead on the Violations Documentation Center’s list of detainees who died in custody. The organization states he died on October 12, 2013, but that the exact date of his death couldn’t be confirmed. The list did not provide further information on what that date was based on.
In early 2020, sources in Syria told Raslan’s friend that the journalist was still alive and being held in a Damascus detention facility run by Syrian military intelligence with at least six underground stories holding other journalists and writers. Raslan’s friend told CPJ he could not disclose his sources for security reasons.
The Syrian mission to the United Nations, and the Syrian ministries of interior and defense, did not respond to CPJ’s emails in September 2022 requesting information about Raslan’s status, whereabouts, health, and whether Raslan is alive or dead.
A 2021 report by the London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights found that over 100,000 people have been forcibly disappeared in Syria since 2011, the vast majority by the Syrian regime.