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.
Earlier on Friday, the family of Nairabiya sounded the alarm after completely losing contact with their son who had been on his way to leaving the country, an opposition group cited them as saying.
Nairabiya had left to Damascus International Airport to arrive in Cairo at 5:00 p.m. (local time) on Friday, but his family lost contact with him shortly after he reached the Syrian capital’s airport, the Local Coordination Committees reported his family members as saying.
After contacting the Egyptian airlines, his relatives learned that Nyrabia did not board the plane, sparking speculation that the Syrian authorities might have arrested him before his flight.
In June 2012, Al Arabiya interviewed Nairabiya to find out information about the death of the Syrian filmmaker, Bassel Chehade.
Chehade, a native from Damascus and a friend of Nairabiya, was reported to have been training citizen journalists and filming attacks on the residents of the central city of Homs by the regime forces.
In the interview Nairabiya said: “Bassel was the kindest person one could meet. He was a very humble, energetic and a timid man all together … While talking to him, you would have never guessed how brave he is.”
“Bassel believed in a democratic Syria where all citizens are equal, respect their rights and their plurality,” he added.
The film producer, born in 1977, is the director of DoxBox, the Independent Documentary Film Festival in Syria.
He launched DoxBox with another producer, Diana el-Jeiroudi, in 2008, which quickly grew to become the largest and most significant documentary film festival in the Arab region, the Sarajevo film festival website said.
In 2002, Diana and Nairabiya started Proaction Film, which is today the only independent documentary film outfit operating in Syria. Most of the films they produce tackle human rights, gender and social justice issues.
To protest against violence in Syria, the two producers decided not to hold the fifth edition of the festival last year. Instead, the two initiated a Global Day for Syria, screening Syrian documentaries in 38 cities around the world on March 15, the date of the first anniversary of the Syrian revolution.