First Published: 2006-03-14

 
Syria's cyber rebels outfox government
 

They cross all red lines, they attack security apparatus, military intelligence, even officials in presidential palace.

 

Middle East Online

'There are no more taboos'

DAMASCUS - Syria's Internet has emerged as the vehicle for the bold voice of dissent in Damascus, where the state regularly exercises censorship and stifles domestic criticism.

The electronic media has pushed the envelope of what is acceptable but at a heavy price.

Savvy cyber rebels who have broadened the political debate could be preyed upon at any time and thrown in jail for proselytizing to Syria's burgeoning Internet audience, thought to number more than 500,000 people.

The most provocative site online is All4Syria, run by Ayman Abdel Nur, himself a member of the Baath party and a childhood friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Since starting his website in May 2003, the Syrian government has on occasion shut down Nur's site and he has resorted to sending his digest of his own writings and news articles about Syria from around the world by email.

Nur told Human Rights Watch in its November 2005 report, "False Freedom: Online Censorship in the Middle East and North Africa", that his digest's readership had ballooned to 16,000.

"We cross all the red lines. We attack the security apparatus, military intelligence, even officials in the presidential palace. There are no more taboos."

Despite petty harassment, Nur has avoided punishment at the hand of Syria's security apparatus, perhaps because of his long ties to Assad.

He believes his acidic commentary will help rescue the Baath regime from corruption and incompetence.

He told Human Rights Watch his aim is "to promote the sense of freedom of speech, to open dialogue. It strengthens the community. When people see that they can participate in the dialogue, they will defend their society."

Another website, called Champress, provides critical articles that would never make it on the pages of staid state-run papers like Tishrin, Al-Baath and Al-Thawra. A recent dispatch told of Damascus students carrying Syrian flags beating democracy activists.

But the path is fraught for Syria's web daredevils. A blogger named Ammar Abd al-Hamid finally quit the country last September for the United States after dogged harassment by authorities over his scathing commentary on his site amarji.blogspot.com, better known as "A Heretic's Blog."

Now, Hamid lobs his barbs from the safety of Silver Spring, Maryland.

A recent column on March 9 lampooned Assad.

"In his recent declarations, the president, true to his moronic form, has made it quite clear that as the country's isolation increases, it is the people who will suffer, not the country's corrupt officialdom," Hamid wrote.

If Hamid had not departed Damascus, he could have ended up like a handful of Internet pundits who have been locked up in the last five years.

A Syrian-Kurdish journalist student, Massud Hamdu, has been incarcerated since July 2003 for posting pictures on the Internet of Kurdish children demonstrating outside the Damascus offices of UN children's agency UNICEF.

Democracy activist Habib Salih has been held since last May by Syria's security apparatus for posting letters online which described his previous stints in prison for championing democracy.

Even venturing online to view controversial sites can prove dangerous. Human Rights Watch reports Internet cafes in Damascus are filled with intelligence agents peering at screens.

Nevertheless, authorities have failed to shut the Internet's floodgates. Since Assad came to power in 2000, after a brief thaw in censorship standards, the government effectively muzzled the phenomenon of political salons and outspoken newspapers.

But the Internet has proved difficult to stop. By email, chat rooms and blogging, dissidents usually keep one step ahead of the state.

To access sites blocked by the government, surfers sometimes latch on to Lebanese and Jordanian service providers or so-called cloaking software that disguises their identity and location.

"There are so many web sites, so many emails, they (the state)... can't keep up with us," rights activist Aktham Naissa told Human Rights Watch.

 

Mecca suicide bombing injures six

Suicide attacks kill at least three people in Mosul

Russia warships, submarine strike IS targets in Syria

Gulf crisis heats up as Qatar receives list of demands

Prime time for Ramadan on Gulf fashion calendar

Sudan making 'positive' steps on meeting US sanctions terms

Civilians killed in Iraq suicide bomb attacks

UN warns Yemen cholera outbreak could infect 300,000 by September

Putin launches deep-water phase of TurkStream pipeline

Berlin warns Ankara against meddling in religious affairs

Asian states downplay 'Russia proposal' to send troops to Syria

Iran’s Salehi urges West to save historic nuclear deal

Iran, allies mark Jerusalem Day with rallies

US-led Syria strikes kill 472 civilians in one month

Morocco dismantles 'IS-linked cell plotting tourist attacks'

France sets out tough new anti-terror law

Trump-Saudi ties help pave way for new Saudi crown prince

Makeshift clinic saves lives near Syria’s Raqa

Egyptian fuel helps restart Gaza power station

Rights groups say Morocco protest leader 'severely beaten' during arrest

5 killed in Mogadishu car bomb attack

UN experts urge Egypt to halt executions after 'flawed trials'

Qatar emir congratulates newly-appointed Saudi crown prince

Kushner hails 'productive' Palestine-Israel talks

Macron says removing Assad no longer priority in Syria

Turkey sends first aid ship to isolated ally Qatar

Iraq PM says IS admitting defeat in Mosul

Egypt delivers fuel to ease Gaza electricity shortage

Saudi Arabia named after ruling dynasty

Turkey detains catering boss after army food poisoning

Israel says will unleash 'unimaginable power' in future Lebanon war

Brussels nail bomber identified as Moroccan

Saudi stock market bullish on new heir

Lebanon's Salame to be new UN Libya envoy

New Saudi heir is king's agent of change

Turkish President accused of influencing courts

Mohammed bin Salman named Saudi crown prince

Algeria leader drops Panama Papers libel suit vs Le Monde

Morocco detains three as Rif protests continue

Israel starts work on new settlements amid Trump 'peace' push

At least 10 dead in Mogadishu suicide attack

Iraq forces advance in Mosul Old City

Yemen cholera death toll passes 1,100

Iran-made drone shot down by US plane in Syria

Raqa’s own battle to liberate hometown from IS rule