Update 13/06/2011: As you may now be aware, it has since transpired that the online identity and events relating to Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari was a hoax. Read our article, thanks to Gay Middle East, about the dangerous impact on Syrian activists here.
For information about the unravelling of this hoax, visit the following who with many others worked tirelessly to reveal the truth:
- Andy Carvin, of NPR
Amina writes the A Gay Girl in Damascus blog. She has described her day-to-day life, her family’s acceptance of her being a lesbian, her time spent living in the United States and decision to live in Syria – and, of course, her involvement and support for the anti-government movement and how she and her loved ones are coping with the consequences of the protests across the country.
In April, she told of the frightening experience where men from Bashar al Assad’s security service came to her family home in the middle of the night, seeking to detain her in connection with what she has blogged. She recounted how, at real personal risk, her father rounded on the men and eventually convinced them to leave without taking his daughter with them. She has not concealed the fact that her family is fairly prominent in Syria, and (for want of a better phrase) well-connected. None of this has provided protection, however.
She has described strange emails, purportedly from friends or loved ones, inviting her to meet them; regularly having to change locations. Finally, last night in Damascus, while she and a friend were walking to a local meeting of anti-government activists, she was seized, forced into a car and taken away by three armed men.
Even before the widespread protests began in Syria, the regime there readily targeted anyone they perceived to be a threat to its power. In late 2009, Tal al Mallohui – a child, aged 17 years – was taken from her home and eventually convicted by a security court – in secret, with no disclosure of the evidence against her, with no defence lawyer and with no possibility of appeal – to five years imprisonment. She was accused of “divulging information to a foreign state”. She is also a blogger, and wrote poems and essays that focused on the suffering of the Palestinians, restrictions on freedom of expression, and her hope for peace in the Middle East.
Before her conviction, Tal was detained for nine months without contact with the outside world. Her parents were then allowed to visit her once. Since her conviction, she has been detained in solitary confinement and is not allowed any visitors. Her family, like Amina’s, is a prominent family in Syria, with one of Tal’s family members having served as a minister for the father of current president Bashar al Assad. Tal’s family were terrified of the possible repercussions if human rights organisations intervened on her behalf, and instead sought to deal privately and diplomatically with the regime.
The only appropriate word is merciless.
The report confirms the Syrian regime’s abduction, torture and killing of children – some as young as 10 years of age. If you have been following events in the country, you will have heard of Hamza al Khatib, the 13 year old child whose horrifically mutilated body was returned to his family after he was detained by the authorities.
The report also describes widespread abductions of Syrian citizens: these include targeted abductions (of activists, organizers of the protests, medical personnel, and people who tried to document the events in Daraa, as well as their family members) and arbitrary “sweeping” abductions. Witnesses describe torture of detainees “without exception”:
The methods of torture included prolonged beatings with sticks, twisted wires, and other devices; electric shocks administered with tasers; use of improvised metal and wooden “racks,” and, in at least one case documented by Human Rights Watch, the rape of a male detainee with a baton. The interrogators and guards also subjected the detainees to various forms of humiliating treatment, such as urinating on the detainees, stepping on their faces, and making them kiss their shoes. Several detainees said they were repeatedly threatened with imminent execution.
Some have described extrajudicial killings: in one case, a group of detainees were taken to a football stadium, some were selected at random from the group, lined up and shot without warning. There is also evidence of mass graves, which may or may not be linked to extrajudicial killings.
Due to the fact that almost all journalists are banned from reporting events in Syria, and due to government seizures of mobile phones and other equipment which might be used to disseminate news or footage, it is extremely difficult to verify information coming out of the country.
Nevertheless, it is clear that anyone who speaks out against the Syrian regime – or who is perceived to do so – is at risk of being detained by the authorities; and that anyone who is detained is at real risk of being tortured, and possibly killed.
It is terrifying to think what may be happening to Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari and the tens of thousands who have been detained by the regime.
As of writing, there has been no official statement from human rights organistaions, or from official organisations such as the UN or government, regarding Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari. It is not clear whether taking action – such as contacting Syrian government or embassies – might place detainees at additional risk. If any new information comes to our attention, we’ll update this article as soon as possible.