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