Omar al-Asaad, a Syrian journalist and activist, was arrested yesterday evening during a funeral for a protestor killed in the Damascus suburb of al-Qaddam, according to an eyewitness. 

Friends of Asaad, a journalism student at the University of Damascus, fear he is at risk of torture in detention.

Asaad writes for a number of Arabic newspapers, including the Emirates’ al-Bayan, Lebanon’s As-Safir, and Saudi papers Al-Hayat and Aljazeera.

Earlier in the year, Asaad reported extensively on the famine in north-east Syria, which affected more than one million people but which the authorities sought to play down. 

The arrest comes as rights activists report hundreds of opposition figures have been arrested in the past few days.

“They are trying to prevent the rise of any political or social leadership that might compete with the regime while they seek to rebuild the wall of fear and scare the Syrian youth away from the uprising,” said Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a writer and opposition figure.

Human rights lawyer Razan Zeitouneh said the arrest of Asaad and hundreds of others in recent days underscores the gap between what the regime says as it promises a "national dialogue" with protesters, and what it does. 

“The only dialogue the regime has conducted since the beginning of the uprising has been through arrests, bullets and the barrels of the tanks,” said Zeitouneh.