Adonis Diaries

Archive for May 12th, 2011

Eye witness accounts from Syria: Who is Lina Mansour? Who is Khaled Sid Mohand ?

I have been collecting articles of eye witness accounts arriving from Syria:  It is hard obtaining any insider intelligence of what’s happening in Syria.  Consequently, I edit and abridge these articles for easy and quick reading.

Lina Mansour is a young lawyer in her 20s. She works for a human rights organisation.  Like many doing this job in Syria, Lina is using another identity to talk to the media. Since last week, Syrian authorities have stepped up their campaign of arrests, trying to crack down on activists communicating with the outside world.

Many, like the 28-year-old cyber activist Rami Nakhle, have already left and are working from neighbouring Lebanon. Others – among them human rights lawyer Razan Zaytoun and dissident Hitham al Maleh – are still active inside the country, often spending no more than two or three nights in one flat before moving to the next.

Lina’s father is an old and well-known activist and has been regularly spending nights out of his house. Is Lina scared? She smiles and says: “We have been scared all our lives. Now at least we have hope that the regime will change, even if it might take years”. She receives gloomy updates from all over Syria from people who continuously ring her second phone, which is registered under a fake ID.

Lina has just been meeting a friend who managed to return from Deraa, the city that has been occupied by the Syrian army for more than 10 days.  The officials proclaimed that the military operations  were to “find and punish armed terrorist groups”.  Lina conveys pictures of people being randomly killed, being arrested, and threatened to be shot in the head by snipers if they demonstrate.  She describes a mass graveyard, corpses being thrown there without names and identity. A city with no food, no medicines, no connections with the outside world.

A few days ago, a group of TV actors and directors signed a petition known as the “milk manifesto”. They called for immediate humanitarian aid for the people of Deraa, and particularly for children who need milk and medicines. The official reaction were condemnation of the manifesto.  For example, Dunya TV, the Syrian satellite channel owned by a consortium of powerful businessmen led by Mohamed Hamsho (a close friend of the president’s brother, Maher) has been hosting incendiary talk shows where the brightest stars of Syrian TV drama have joined forces against the milk manifesto and its signatories. Some humanitarian convoys to Daraa have been rejected and sent back to Damascus. The UN inspectors have been trying hard to send a delegation to verify the humanitarian situation although, so far, they haven’t been successful.

“Lots of help is coming from Jordan, which has got a very strong link and affiliation to Deraa, being  part of  the Houran region between the two countries”, said Lina.  “It is very important for us that humanitarian help comes from families and ordinary people, not from governments,” Lina says.

“We don’t want any official intervention here, not even if it comes from an Arab country.” Lina has attended different meetings where this was the most debated topic. “There is not such a thing as one view or a common opinion about how the west or other Arab countries should help Syria,” she says, while describing heated debates between different groups that could fall under the generic definition of “Syrian opposition” despite not being organised as such.

“My father and I completely disagree and have heated arguments about what the west should do with ‘the Syrian file’,” she points out. Here there is a generational clash: her father’s opposition to western intervention – even a humanitarian one – is probably nurtured by an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist discourse that was a common mark of international leftist movements in the 1960s and 1970s. Lina is not only less ideological, but also more pragmatic.

“I think the Western States can help us at humanitarian and diplomatic levels. We are not going to ask for milk and medicines, but if they can manage to send, we’ll be silently grateful.

Cable al-Jazeera‘s released a list of Syrian figures who will be prevented from travelling to the European Union States; and their assets frozen.  Lina is drinking green tea and smiling

The other eye witness account is from Khaled Sid Mohand.  Khaled,an Algerian national,  is one of the few foreign journalists who can bear testimony to the repression of the Syrian regime against protesters calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.  On Saturday, the freelance journalist, who works for a French public radio station France Culture radio and the French daily Le Monde, returned to France after a 23-day detention in a Syrian jail.

“In a way I would say I can’t complain. I was beaten up a little bit during the first couple of days, but then they never touched me again,” said Mohand.  “The psychological torture was in hearing the screams of all the other detainees. Any time they would take a detainee from his cell you would hear him scream like hell. Sometimes for 15 minutes, sometimes as long as an hour.”

Mohand was arrested in the Syrian capital of Damascus on April 9 and incarcerated in a tiny prison cell. Syrian authorities have provided no reasons for his arrest.  Coverage of the demonstrations has been tightly controlled in Syria since the outbreak of anti-regime protests in mid-March, with few foreign reporters allowed into the country.

The media blackout has forced international news organisations to rely on amateur video footage from troubled Syrian towns and cities posted on Web sites such as YouTube.  Since the protests broke out earlier this year, a number of foreign reporters have been detained – some have been released and expelled from the country, like Dorothy Parvez .

“The Syrian authorities have not given us any information on what happened to Dorothy after she arrived in Damascus,” said a statement released by the Arabia news station. “This burden therefore rests on the Syrian authority and we continue to demand that they release her.”

“I was scared to have to give the names of the people I had interviewed before. This was a major concern,” Khaled told FRANCE 24.  Mohand was released after diplomatic efforts by the French and Algerian embassies in Damascus.

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May 2011

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