WASHINGTON -- The U.S. demanded Thursday that Bashar Assad's government in Syria stop brutalizing peaceful opponents and in particular criticized its "targeted, brutal attack" on the country's most popular cartoonist.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland had especially harsh words for the Assad regime regarding cartoonist Ali Ferzat, who is also a longtime human rights advocate, in a statement issued after the department had closed for the day.
"The regime's thugs focused their attention on Ferzat's hands, beating them furiously and breaking one of them – a clear message that he should stop drawing," the statement said.
The statement came a week after President Barack Obama demanded explicitly that Assad resign because he had lost legitimacy as a ruler. That demand was in conjunction with similar moves by major U.S. allies such as Britain, France, Germany and the European Union.
In her statement, Nuland said: "Many other moderate activists who oppose violence have been jailed for speaking out against the regime, including Walid al-Buni, Nawaf Basheer, Georges Sabra, Mohammed Ghaliyoun and Abdullah al-Khalil. Some have been held incommunicado for months.
"While making empty promises about dialogue with the Syrian people, the Assad regime continues to carry out brutal attacks against peaceful Syrians trying to exercise their universal right to free expression," Nuland continued. "We demand that the Assad regime immediately stop its campaign of terror through torture, illegal imprisonment and murder."