AMMAN, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Syrian authorities on Thursday released leading artist Youssef Abdeleke, arrested a month ago after signing a declaration calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, his family said.
"Youssef has been freed and he is now with his friends in Damascus," a family member said.
The 62-year-old painter and illustrator, who refused to flee a crackdown on peaceful dissidents, was detained on July 18 at a roadblock in the coastal province of Tartous and then taken to Damascus.
Among the 70 signatories to the declaration calling for Assad's removal, Abdelke was one of only two not in exile or in hiding in Syria.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war. The alleged killings of hundreds by poison gas in the suburbs of Damascus on Wednesday has intensified international pressure on Assad.
Abdelke has for decades explored themes of repression and social turmoil in his work. Known for his etchings and charcoal paintings, he is a member of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (NCBDC), a group which advocates peaceful political transition.
Thousands of peaceful activists have been rounded up since Syria's uprising erupted nearly two and a half years ago. They include veteran opposition campaigner Abdelaziz al-Khair, a colleague of Abdelke in the NCBDC who was abducted by security forces last year and not heard from since.
Silver-haired and pony-tailed, Abdelke has himself campaigned for decades for the release of political prisoners.
He was imprisoned from 1978 to 1980 and lived in France for 24 years before returning home. In the last few years, he has been banned from travelling. He rejected the option of living permanently in the West, saying: "If your home is on fire, you stay to put out the flames." (Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; editing by Andrew Roche)