Orwa Nyrabia, the Syrian filmmaker who was arrested last month at Damascus International Airport, was released by the Syrian government Wednesday, two of the documentarian's friends told TheWrap.
Nyrabia spent three weeks in detention after he was arrested on Aug. 23 by military security. A Syrian civilian court subsequently ruled that he was innocent of any crime and should be released, New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright, a friend of Nyrabia, told TheWrap.
The arrest caused concerns for the documentarian's safety and prompted a statement from the Toronto International Film Festival and a star-studded video appeal for his release.
Wright said he spoke with France-based filmmaker Usama Muhammed — Nyrabia's uncle — soon after his nephew was freed.
"He had spoken to Orwa this morning, for only a moment," Wright, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" in 2007, told TheWrap. "He said he was strong and in good spirits."
"We think — well, I hope — he hasn't been harmed," he said.
Nyarabia had reportedly been filming people left homeless and without work in the wake of country's ongoing violent uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Details about where Nyrabia was detained remain unclear.
"What was unusual was that he was taken out of military custody, taken to a civilian court and acquitted," documentary producer Alex Gibney, a friend of Nyrabia, told TheWrap. "We have no idea why he was released or why he was taken."
Word of his detention spread after his wife, Diana El-Jeiroudi, learned her husband never boarded a flight bound for Cairo, where he was to attend a film festival.
The arrest caused concerns for the documentarian's safety and prompted a statement from the Toronto International Film Festival condemning his detention and urging Syrian officials to respect filmmakers' right to express themselves "without fear of reprisal."
A video created by Toronto festival filmmakers, Danny Boyle, Judd Apatow, Morgan Spurlock and other celebrities called for Nyrabia's release.
Nyrabia is best known for his work on the French-German television channel, Arté, and has served on jury panels at documentary festivals around the world. He also co-founded the DOX BOX International International Documentary Film Festival in Syria.
The fifth annual festival, planned for last March, was canceled as violence from the Syrian uprising further destabilized the country.
A native Syrian, Nyrabia received a degree in dramatic art from the High Institute for Theater in Damascus.
Wright said that Nyrabia had long avoided Assad's iron fist, organizing the region's preeminent film festival under a government that shuttered droves of cinemas since coming to power.
"He was able to walk a very, very careful line," Wright said. "Apparently, at some point, the government thought that he had crossed the line."
A number of journalists and photographers have died amid heavy fighting in Syria over the last year.
Days ago, Syrian filmmaker Tamer al-Awam died in Aleppo as he filmed the bombardment of civilian neighborhoods in the city.