Back in March, when, in my article, “Revolution in the Middle East: Brave Protestors in Syria Call for Freedom,” I picked up on reports of protests in Damascus, firstly by those inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and then by supporters and relatives of 21 jailed human rights activists (many of whom were then seized and imprisoned themselves), I praised their bravery, because the Syrian regime has a long history of violently suppressing dissent.
This was something that was more than abstract to me, because, via a good friend, who is Syrian, i had been given an insight into the use of torture by the al-Assad regime, and had also been horrified by the use of torture on prisoners in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” — and by the fact that President Bush had sent prisoners to Syria for torture, and the Canadian government had also arranged for its own citizens to be seized and tortured.
After this initial protests in Damascus, the ripples of dissent in Syria spread rapidly, leading to major unrest in the southern city of Dara’a, where, as I noted, “protests about the arrest of a group of 15 schoolchildren who had dared to scrawl graffiti on a wall explaining that ‘the people want the overthrow of the regime’ escalated into something far more grave, when the security services opened fire, killing three protestors in cold blood. Dubbed ‘Dignity Friday’ by protestors, who had been using social networking sites to coordinate their activities, the clampdown in Dara’a immediately echoed throughout the region, where other protests had been taking place, and the next day, as the Guardian explained, “a much larger, angrier crowd — estimated to number as many as 20,000 — turned out for the burial of the previous days’ victims.” Read the rest of this entry »
This week, the BBC broadcast a compelling “Panorama” programme about Syria (available below via YouTube, but also available here via iPlayer), in which reporter Jane Corbin, tracing the roots of the people’s uprising against the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad, focused on Deraa, the town of 80,000 inhabitants in the south of Syria where, after intellectuals and human rights activists began protesting in Damascus in mid-March (followed by many arrests), the townspeople of Deraa took over the struggle against the Assad regime, protesting about how some of their children were arrested and tortured for two weeks after scribbling graffiti critical of the regime.
The film includes shocking footage taken in Deraa by local activists and journalists, breaking through the almost total ban on foreign journalists, some of which has never been shown before, and it reveals how, from the beginning, the regime responded to peaceful protests with random killings by snipers, designed to quell dissent through fear. The footage also reveals how the security forces targeted medical staff inside ambulances, to prevent them from treating the wounded, and also contains other distressing footage from March and April, when the security forces roamed Deraa, seizing people and taking them away — to be tortured, and often killed.
As the protests spread to other towns, the violence increased, and on April 25, Deraa was besieged by the Syrian army, and many more protestors — men, women and children — were killed, both in the town, and amongst supporters from nearby towns who tried to break the blockade and deliver supplies. Others — including children — were taken away and tortured, as happened with 13-year old Hamza al-Khateeb, and it is estimated that across Syria over a hundred children have been killed by the army and the security services since March. Read the rest of this entry »
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