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Syria: The Struggle for Freedom and the End of Silence

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011/12.

Since March 2011, when the uprisings that started in Tunisia and Egypt reached Syria, thousands have been killed and tens of thousands have been arrested and disappeared in the country. Syrian activists face unprecedented brutality and a media war to suppress all forms of opposition.

However, content shared by citizens have flooded the Internet and managed to break the wall of the state-controlled narrative. This post offers a selection of material posted by netizens online that portrays the struggle of the Syrian people for freedom and dignity, and the end of four decades of silence.

Silence vs. citizen voices

Decades of media control over Syria have helped the regime silence its people and maintain international legitimacy.  The Syrian government owns the Syrian telecommunications market, the most regulated in the region, and international journalists are banned from entering the country. This picture showing protesters wearing bandages on their mouths sends a powerful message ”from the occupied city of Kafar Nabel”:

From Occupied Kafar Nabel, 4 December 2011. Author unknown.

From Occupied Kafar Nabel, 4 December 2011. Author unknown.

What are you afraid of?

During the last few months, Syrians have struggled against a 41-year-old wall of fear. This video, widely shared online, shows a young man talking to an older man, numbering the reasons why he might be afraid and encouraging him not to be. It ends with the sentence “Your silence is their most powerful weapon”.

To drive the point home, Samar Dahmash Jarrah tweeted:

The thought that I can switch on TV and see Syrians chanting Freedom Freedom by the 10′s of thousands seemed illusive but not any more!

Silencing protesters

Thousands of protesters have been killed since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March. The death of 13-year-old Syrian boy Hamza al-Khatib, brutally killed in custody, sparked shock and anger over the regime's cruelty. Thousands of other non-violent protesters like 26-year-old Ghiath Matar, from the Damascus suburb of Daraya, have been the target of  such brutality. Ghiath was known for leading the initiative of facing security fire and violence with bottles of water and flowers.

After his death on September 10, the Local Coordination Committee issued a joint statement that mentioned the dream Ghiath had died for:

Ghiath was waiting for two births: the birth of his daughter who won’t have the chance to lay on his arms, and the birth of the new free,  just and democratic Syria, which he won’t see but will hold his memory and pure soul forever. Ghiath and his friends in Daraya were advocates of non-violent struggle. He believed that a free and civilized Syria can’t be realized but by Syrian men and women by their peaceful struggle against the violence of the regime, with all the love they have facing the speech of hatred, by refusing to be like the butcher or use his tools.

On the left: martyr Ghiath Matar; on the right: detained Yahia Shurbaji. Image from razanghazzawi.com.

On the left: martyr Ghiath Matar; on the right: detained Yahia Shurbaji. Image from razanghazzawi.com.

Syrian blogger @Bsyria tweeted:

RIP Ghiath Matar. Ghiath was a peace activist. He used to hand flowers and water to soldiers in Daraya. He was tortured to death. #Syria

Silencing music

If there is one song that has become the anthem of the Syrian revolution, that is “Yalla Irhal ya Bashar” (It's time to leave, Bashar), popularized by Hama singer Ibrahim Kashoush. On July 5, Kashoush was found dead with his vocal cords ripped off, as a revenge for ridiculing Bashar Al-Asad. His voice, however, has gone viral through the videos of demonstrations in Hama, and cannot be silenced:

http://youtu.be/3mG3V2fBYbw

Saudi blogger Ahmad Al-Omran, an intern at NPR, spends his days curating netizen videos and news about Syria. After a day's work, he tweeted:

What's my plan for the weekend? After watching all these videos coming from #Syria today, none of my plans seem to matter.

Silencing humor

Renowned Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, head of the Arab Cartoonist Association, published a cartoon depicting a sweaty Bashar Al-Assad clutching a briefcase running to catch a ride with Gaddafi. Ferzat was brutally beaten on August 26 and had both his hands broken “for mocking Syrian leaders.”

Image by Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat

Image by Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat

@Freedom_7uriyah tweeted:

All i've got to say to Assad is watch #Libya closely, ur next. #AssadLies will get u nowhere

Silencing journalists and bloggers

The list of journalists and bloggers who have been killed, arrested or tortured has increased dramatically since the beginning of demonstrations in March. Cameraman Ferzat Jarban was found dead on November 20 with his eyes gouged out. He was filming anti-regime protests in the town of Al-Qasir, Homs.

Free Razan poster

Free Razan poster

The government has also targeted bloggers like Hussein Ghrer and Razan Ghazzawi, one of the most prominent Syrian bloggers and a former Global Voices Online contributor. Razan, who was accused of “weakening the national sentiment and trying to ignite sectarian strife” was released on December 18, but many others remain imprisoned or missing.

Syrian blogger @anasqtiesh tweeted:

”Weakening the national sentiment, and trying to ignite sectarian strife” should be charges against Assad. #Syria#FreeRazan

Syrians garner global support

As the uprising in Syria continues, and in spite of the attempts to silence activists, solidarity with the Syrian people has not ceased. Several online initiatives show how activists have become more creative to ensure global attention towards the situation in the country continues.

The SyrianSitIn campaign on YouTube by the grassroots news organization Sham News Network asks individuals to submit videos in solidarity with Syrian protesters. The videos, which were then posted to the SyrianSitIn [ar] YouTube account, contain versions of one statement:

نجتمع فيه كلنا معاً ومن كل مكان في العالم ومن كل الجنسيات… لنعلن تضامننا مع مطالب الشعب السوري الحر، ولنقول جميعنا  وبصوتٍ واحد لا للقتل لا للظلم لا للقمع لا للقهر، ولنقول لبشار الأسد ونظامه وعصابته أننا وبعون الله سنسقطكم ثم سنحاكمك
We are all getting together, from all corners of the world, men and women, to express our support for the demands of the free Syrian people, and to say out loud, with one voice, No to killing, oppression and injustice.

@honestmenofsyri tweeted [ar]:

هذا الاعتصام ليس بديلاً عن الاعتصام والتظاهر السلمي على أرض الواقع بأي شكل من الأشكال، وإنما هو وسيلة إضافية..
This online sit-in is not in any way a substitute for sit-ins and demonstrations on the ground. It's just an additional means to achieve our goal.

Syria 2012

As 2011 reached an end, Syrian advocates started using the hashtag #Syria2012 in reference to the Syria of tomorrow – a Syria of  freedom, justice and dignity. Fadi al-Qadi tweeted:

Syria2012 “At this time next year, Bashar Al-Assad will be a former president”

Mouhanad Abdul Hamid added:

I'll visit my family and get back to my home in Damascus in Syria2012 after long years of exile.

Nora Bashra noted:

In Syria2012, “torture” will be a word of the past. #Syria

Nour al-Ali hoped [ar]:

#Syria2012 ‏ التعليم رح يصير شي أساسي بالبلد.. ورح نبدأ نقضي ع الأمية
Education will be a priority in the country… and we will eradicate illiteracy

And Ahmad Ibn Rashed Ibn Said concluded:

Syria2012 will be cleansed of thugs and bugs, free of wolves and dogs, and full of kisses and hugs

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011/12.

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