Syr­ian film-maker mak­ing pri­son tor­ture movie sur­vives 'as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt'

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Ka­reem Sha­heen in Is­tan­bul

A Syr­ian film-maker work­ing on a movie de­tail­ing the As­sad regime’s abuses in the no­to­ri­ous Tad­mur pri­son in Palmyra has re­gained con­scious­ness af­ter a sus­pected as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt in Is­tan­bul, the sec­ond such at­tack on op­po­si­tion ac­tivists in Turkey in less than a month.

Muham­mad Bayazid, who stud­ied film-mak­ing in the US and was in Turkey pro­mot­ing his up­com­ing film The Tun­nel, was stabbed on Tues­day night while head­ing to a meet­ing with a sup­posed busi­ness­man who had promised to help raise funds for his project. He was de­scribed on Wed­nes­day even­ing as be­ing in a sta­ble con­di­tion af­ter hours in in­ten­sive care.

“Last night he was very un­sta­ble, he was stabbed in the chest close to the blood ves­sels that pro­vide blood to the heart, so there was mas­sive bleed­ing,” Samah Safi Bayazid, Muham­mad’s wife, told the Guardian by phone. “Thank God he is awake and con­scious.” “It was a mir­a­cle that he sur­vived,” she added, say­ing she be­lieved the at­tack was an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt.

Bayazid was work­ing on a film drama­tis­ing the story of a Syr­i­anAmer­i­can man who spent 20 years in the pri­son in Palmyra, where thou­sands of Is­lamists and op­po­nents of the As­sad regime lan­guished or were sum­mar­ily ex­e­cuted. The pri­son was de­mol­ished by Is­lamic State when it con­quered the city in 2015.

A friend who was with Bayazid when he was stabbed said he had asked if he could join him for a meet­ing with a busi­ness­man who had a pro­posal for how to raise funds for the film. The sup­posed busi­ness­man had made con­tact on­line, claim­ing he wanted to per­son­ally in­vest in the film be­cause he had also suf­fered in pri­son in Palmyra.

The busi­ness­man had in­vited Bayazid to din­ner at his villa, but when they ar­rived at the given lo­ca­tion they did not find a res­i­den­tial build­ing. They were in­stead ap­proached by a man who asked to speak to Bayazid, and af­ter in­quir­ing about his name, stabbed him in the chest while he was still sit­ting in the car’s pas­sen­ger seat. The friend, who was still in the car, then rushed Bayazid to hospi­tal. “Along the way he lost a lot of blood and fainted a few times, but we ar­rived at the emer­gency room in time,” the friend said. “He has started his re­cov­ery, and we have con­tacted the po­lice and au­thor­i­ties and in­formed them about all the de­tails of the in­ci­dent.”

Turkey hosts an es­ti­mated 3 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees, in­clud­ing op­po­si­tion ac­tivists and mem­bers of rebel

groups who fought to over­throw Bashar al-As­sad. Isis has vi­o­lently tar­geted Syr­ian jour­nal­ists based in Turkey in re­cent years af­ter they re­ported on the group’s abuses in ar­eas it con­trolled such as Raqqa.

In Septem­ber, two Syr­ian op­po­si­tion jour­nal­ists and ac­tivists, Orouba Barakat and her daugh­ter Hala, were found dead in their Is­tan­bul apart­ment with their throats cut.

The at­tacks against Bayazid and the Barakat fam­ily ap­peared to specif­i­cally tar­get op­po­nents of the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment, which is now within sight of vic­tory fol­low­ing six years of civil war.Bayazid was ar­rested and tor­tured in Damascus in 2011, and was later granted asy­lum in the United States. He and his wife co-founded a film stu­dio, pro­duc­ing works fo­cused on hu­man rights, re­li­gion and hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sues. They gar­nered broader at­ten­tion when they pub­licly an­nounced their lat­est project, The Tun­nel.“When we chose this life we knew what it meant, be­cause we aren’t from places like Amer­ica where we can ex­press our opin­ions,” said Samah Safi Bayazid. “It’s very hard if you’re an Arab to fight against op­pres­sion, your life is al­ways in dan­ger. He was stabbed and I nearly had a stroke just be­cause we wanted to do a film on hu­man rights.”

Muham­mad Bayazid with his wife and film-mak­ing part­ner Samah Safi Bayazid Pho­to­graph: Handout

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