Cartoonist Ali Ferzat’s hands, face, appear to be badly injured in this photo from the hospital (Via Facebook)

Ferzat had once had high hopes for Assad as leader, having been visited long ago by the aspiring opthamologist, who told the cartoonist all his work should be published — even cartoons banned in the country, the Guardian reports.

But in recent years, Ferzat, now 60 and based in Damascus, had increasingly criticized not only the bureaucracy and corruption in Assad’s regime but also his brutal crackdown on protesters.

Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat works in his atelier in Damascus, Syria on Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011. (Muzaffar Salman/AP)

While support came in for Ferzat on Twitter, his own Facebook page, and a Facebook supporter page, the artist’s own Web site was suspended. It was unclear whether his page had been shut down or was overloaded by the number of people trying to find it.

Assad has ignored calls from around the world for him to step down and has continued to use security forces to kill and arrest protesters and political opponents. More than 2,200 people have been killed since mid-March, opposition activists say.

Outspoken cultural figures like Ferzat, whose drawings and cartoons have long pushed the boundaries of freedom of expression, were considered safe until several weeks ago, when a number of actors, writers, and artists were arrested.

A recent cartoon by Ferzat ridiculed Assad’s promise for reforms, with a picture of an official with rosebuds in his speech bubble and a turd on his head.

See more of Ferzat’s work here: