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Syrian Artist Issa Touma's Gallery Closed by Government Officials
September 20, 2005


September 16, 2005

Middle East Research and Information Project
1500 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Suite 119
Washington, DC 20005

Contact: Michelle Woodward (
Tel: 202-223-3677

The Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP)registers its serious concern over the continued harassment by the Syrian government of photographer Issa Touma. On September 14 he was in Damascus when he received notice that the police had arrived to close his Le Pont Gallery in Aleppo. The closure order states that the governor of Aleppo is closing the gallery because Touma engaged in activity without prior agreement from the government. Just last month he had met with the police to discuss two prior closings of the gallery and other interference with the art festivals he organizes in Aleppo. Touma reports that the police at that time informed him that their problems with him were over.

Yesterday, after heated discussions by phone with the police, Touma reports that they warned him: "We will teach you how to respect us."

One of Touma's photographs appeared in the fall 2005 issue of Middle East Report,"In Syria and Lebanon," published by MERIP. He was recently in the US as a participant in the photography exhibit Nazar at the Houston FotoFest. Nazar is now on view at the Aperture Gallery in New York City. He was interviewed on National Public Radio's Morning Edition on August 23, 2005 and again briefly this morning. Touma's previous run-ins with the Syrian government have been covered by Megan Stack at the Los Angeles Times on August 3, 2004 and scholar Joshua Landis on his blog Syria Comment.

A chronology of day-by-day government interference with Touma's Eighth International Photography Gathering and Sixth International Women's Art Festival in September and October of 2004 is available here:

MERIP repeats its concern that harassment of Issa Touma and curtailment of his cultural activities is reflective of the government's continued tight restrictions upon Syrians' freedom of expression. MERIP urges Aleppo's governor to rescind the closure order of Le Pont Gallery as soon as possible and to direct the police to cease harassment of Issa Touma.

Issa Touma is available to talk to the media. Please note that Syria is 7 hours later than Eastern Standard Time.

Tel: +963-94-412-218