Famed Syrian cartoonist has his hands broken

Ali Ferzat, famous dissident cartoonist, is beaten by security forces.

Ali Ferzat, a prominent Syrian cartoonist, has been beaten by security forces, according to activists.

The dissident artist is one of the most famous cultural figures in the Arab world, with his drawings criticising the corruption of the Syrian regime, and others across the Middle East. Pushing the boundaries of freedom of expression in Syria, he even received a death threat from the former Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. More recently, he has turned his attention to the uprising.

In the early hours of Thursday, a group of masked men forced him into a van. According to relatives, Ferzat's attackers broke both his hands, telling him that it was a "warning", before leaving him by the roadside.

According to a tweet, this was the last cartoon he drew before being attacked:

cartoon

Here is a montage of some of Ferzat's other cartoons:

This is just the latest in a series of episodes of President Bashar al-Assad's regime attempting to quash dissent. Several artists, writers and actors have been arrested in recent weeks. Last month, Ibrahim al-Qashoush, the composer of a popular anti-regime song, was found dead with his vocal chords removed.

The UN says more than 2,200 people have been killed as security forces crack down on anti-government protests that began in mid-March.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Scotland's huge deficit is an obstacle to independence

The country's borrowing level (9.5 per cent) is now double that of the UK. 

Ever since Brexit, and indeed before it, the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum has loomed. But today's public spending figures are one reason why the SNP will proceed with caution. They show that Scotland's deficit has risen to £14.8bn (9.5 per cent of GDP) even when a geographic share of North Sea revenue is included. That is more than double the UK's borrowing level, which last year fell from 5 per cent of GDP to 4 per cent. 

The "oil bonus" that nationalists once boasted of has become almost non-existent. North Sea revenue last year fell from £1.8bn to a mere £60m. Total public sector revenue was £400 per person lower than for the UK, while expenditure was £1,200 higher.  

Nicola Sturgeon pre-empted the figures by warning of the cost to the Scottish economy of Brexit (which her government estimated at between £1.7bn and £11.2.bn a year by 2030). But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose considerable austerity. 

Nor would EU membership provide a panacea. Scotland would likely be forced to wait years to join owing to the scepticism of Spain and others facing their own secessionist movements. At present, two-thirds of the country's exports go to the UK, compared to just 15 per cent to other EU states.

The SNP will only demand a second referendum when it is convinced it can win. At present, that is far from certain. Though support for independence rose following the Brexit vote, a recent YouGov survey last month gave the No side a four-point lead (45-40). Until the nationalists enjoy sustained poll leads (as they have never done before), the SNP will avoid rejoining battle. Today's figures are a considerable obstacle to doing so. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.