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Syria: True Identity of Arrested Blogger Questioned

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011.

Since reports emerged that a Syrian blogger named Amina Arraf, known as “Gay Girl in Damascus” had been seized by authorities on Monday, 6 June 2011, serious doubts have surfaced that the blogger may not be who she claims.

On Wednesday, a Croatian woman living in London named Jelena Lecic spoke on BBC television, stating that photos of “Amina” that appeared in most major news media (as well as on Global Voices) were actually photos of her that were stolen from her private Facebook account. Now, as reporters and bloggers analyze “Amina's” many online postings, even more confusion reigns.

Jelena Lecic speaks to BBC (screen capture from interview)

One contentious story is that of Amina's girlfriend, Sandra Bagaria, who was one of the first people media sought to speak to. It soon emerged that Sandra, like many others, had only communicated with Amina online. When suspicions arose that Sandra could be the author of the elaborate story, she spoke to National Public Radio in the United States, to debunk the rumors.

Jerusalem-based student Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) who was in touch with Amina prior to the alleged arrest, and has since spoken to Sandra, tweeted:

@Elizrael: Despite what some outlets have suggested, #Amina's online girlfriend had no knowledge of this fraud. She is more devastated than anyone.

There are also questions surrounding why someone would create a hoax about a Syrian blogger's arrest, given that arrests for speaking out are not uncommon in the country (for more information, see Threatened Voices’ Syria page). Evidence that Amina's online identity has existed since at least 2007 on various platforms, including dating sites and MySpace, further confounded bloggers.

Social media strategist of NPR, Andy Carvin tweeted:

@acarvin: I just don't see anyone creating a sleeper-cell online persona years ago, waiting for unrest to start just to blog it. Some truth somewhere.

American blogger Liz Henry, who has conducted substantial research on “sockpuppetry” and has hosted discussions with outed fictitious bloggers in the past, writes on her blog:

In this case, how could I tell from this distance? I hope you can see why my spidey sense went off for Amina. I don’t disbelieve in her becuase she’s a great writer with a sense of drama and rhetoric, or because of her sexual orientation or her activism. For example, I don’t for a second doubt the existence of Riverbend, who blogged so eloquently and for so long from Baghdad and then fled to Syria with her family. But I start to really, really, want some trustable and deep sources for Amina. How can an activist whose life is in danger provide that credibility? It’s a very hard question.

Meanwhile, there is ample concern throughout the blogosphere and Twittersphere that the extensive discussion around Amina's identity could cause people to ignore the fact that thousands of Syrians have been detained since February for demonstrating in the country.

Marietje Schaake, a member of the European parliament, tweeted:

@MarietjeD66: And let's not forget the thousands of people who are detained, killed and repressed without being known at all #amina

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011.

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