First Published: 2011-08-01

 

Home network keeps world focus on Syria revolt

 

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights becomes primary source of information on anti-Assad revolt.

 

Middle East Online

By Haro Chakmakjian - LONDON

'I don't trust the international community... It is up to the Syrian people to do it for ourselves'

Thousands of miles from his homeland, Rami Abdel Rahman runs a network of 200 rights activists across Syria who report to him to allow news of the latest bloodshed in their country to reach the outside world.

"We are all normal people, with normal lives, normal families. We don't have an office. We work from home or from our jobs," said Abdel Rahman, 40, in a telephone interview from his home in Coventry, central England.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which he heads has burst onto the world stage as a primary source of information for the world media since his country's anti-government revolt erupted in mid-March.

With foreign reporters denied access on the ground, the activists armed with names -- based on hospital lists -- of those killed in clashes between security forces and protesters have been the source of front page news.

Abdel Rahman, who hails from the eastern Mediterranean city of Banias, is the only member living in exile. To avoid the network being dismantled if one member is detained, most of his colleagues do not know each other.

Contacts are made through Skype, Gmail and by telephone on unregistered numbers.

Critics have questioned Abdel Rahman's credibility and claimed he is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood with a political agenda, while the authorities in Damascus accuse him of being on a mission to destabilise the country.

"I am an independent, I am not a Muslim Brotherhood member and I'm not in the communist party," said Abdel Rahman, who describes himself as close to prominent and often jailed Syrian opposition figures such as Michel Kilo.

"We don't receive a penny from anyone," he said, insisting that its own members fund the Observatory and an Arabic-language website.

Fending off charges of being a propagandist, the Syrian Observatory head has declined to corroborate reports of defections within the army or allegations of active Iranian involvement in crushing protests in Syria.

On Sunday, an army assault on the rebellious city of Hama, north of Damascus, killed nearly 140 people, according to activists, triggering furious condemnation from abroad.

The city of Hama, famed for its ancient watermills, was the site of the 1982 killing of 20,000 people when the military put down an Islamist revolt.

Abdel Rahman said a repeat of such a large-scale massacre would not be possible in the age of Facebook, Twitter and of NGOs such as the Syrian Observatory which was founded five years ago.

"In the end we will get democracy in Syria, within six months," he predicted. "We are going through a very hard time, we have to be patient, we are like in a war. But we must not give up now."

Abdel Rahman said "Syria will never be the same again" after the March 15 outbreak of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad and his Baath party.

The activist's passion for the cause of human rights dates back to an incident he witnessed at the age of seven "when I saw my big sister beaten up" by security agents, the Observatory chief said.

Abdel Rahman moved to Coventry in 2000, faced with the prospect of arrest back home for his activism.

Steering clear of the glare of London, he lives with his Syrian wife and their five-year-old daughter, keeping a low profile running a shop that sells books and clothes.

He scoffs at Western calls for Assad to bring in reforms.

"I don't trust the international community... It is up to the Syrian people to do it for ourselves," he said.

 

Two Danes stabbed by man shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ in Gabon

UN considers rejecting Trump Jerusalem decision

Israeli air traffic halted due to strikes

Iran's schools suffocate in smog

Christmas in Jordan dimmed by Jerusalem crisis

Turkey slams Austria ‘discrimination’

Tunisia elections delayed

Istanbul summit strong on the rhetoric, weak on concrete steps

Morocco’s Islamists elect new leader, walking away from predecessor’s populism

Palestinians call for protests against Pence Jerusalem visit

Palestinian billionaire detained in Saudi Arabia

Egypt opens Rafah crossing for four days

Turkey court releases 7 suspects in New Year attack trial

Palestinian activist killed in Gaza protests

Foreign fighters a worry as IS struggles to survive

Over half Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in 'extreme poverty'

Palestinians killed in continuing protests over Jerusalem occupation

Bourita: Extraordinary meeting between ECOWAS, Morocco to be held beginning of 2018

Saudi-led air strikes, clashes as Yemen forces battle rebels

Sahel force funding shows terrorism fight is Saudi 'priority'

UN 'appalled' at mass execution of jihadists in Iraq

Iraq's Sistani says Hashed should be under government control

Middle-class Egypt adapts as costs soar

Somalia's budget meets IMF terms

Israel PM questioned in graft probe

US says Iran supplied ballistic missile to Yemen rebels

Lebanon approves bid for oil, gas exploration

US to present 'irrefutable evidence' of Iran violations

Istanbul 'to remove Gulen links' from street names

Iraq hangs 38 jihadists

Pence to visit Middle East despite controversy

Hamas chief calls for continued Jerusalem protests

EU to repatriate 15,000 migrants from Libya in two months

Syria Kurds fear US ally will desert them after IS defeat

Israeli drugmaker Teva to cut 14,000 jobs over two years

Turkey rescues 51 migrants stranded on rocks

Saudi, UAE hold talks with Yemen Islamists

18 killed after bomber strikes Mogadishu police academy

Israeli air strikes target Hamas military facilities

US-led air strikes kill 23 civilians in Syria

Israel union calls nationwide strike over pharmaceutical giant job cuts

UN envoy urges Putin to press Assad for elections

Yemen's Huthi rebels release pro-Saleh media staff

Israel intelligence minister invites Saudi prince to visit

Saudi-led strikes kill 30 in rebel-run Yemen prison