Have you ever met a torture survivor? Someone who has witnessed or experienced extreme violence? Someone who has known the murder or disappearance of a family member? A person who has been traumatised? I have. Torture is one of the worst acts – one of the most serious crimes – which can be perpetrated by one person against another.
During the past week – due to the chance that a person may have been in Syrian custody, and therefore may have been at risk of torture – the ‘Amina’ hoax diverted the energies, time and resources of international human rights organisations, journalists, and the US State Department, among others, from the events actually taking place in Syria. And it has placed activists within Syria at greater risk of harm.
Although the damage caused by the ‘Amina’ hoax to activists and ordinary civilians in Syria cannot be undone, it’s possible to consider some options to take action. For instance:
- You can help by simply writing a letter: Syrian brothers held by intelligence agency (Amnesty International)
- Or read about what’s happening in the region
- Find out about LGBT rights around the world
Why consider these options?
Over the past seven days, thousands of refugees have fled Syria into Turkey; civilians in the town of Jisr al-Shughur were shelled and attacked by their own government; that same regime razed and destroyed civilian homes and crops in what has been described as a “scorched earth policy”. There have been reports of mass graves, arbitrary and extrajudicial executions, abductions, mass arrests, torture (including the torture and killing of children), and more. Meanwhile, the world prevaricates as horse-trading continues at the UN.
As I wrote in my initial article last week:
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”
Remarkably, there are people who find this whole scenario amusing: that a white, middle-aged American man pretended to be a Muslim woman of colour, and Syrian-American lesbian. There are people who would rather make punchlines about this instead of focusing on the point:
Everything about this hoax undermines and discredits ordinary people and activists who are in Syria, and who are working to improve their country at massive risk to their lives and the lives of their family members – whether they are LGBT activists, anti-regime activists, or both. The hoax, in fact, has assisted the Syrian regime.