Revolutionary newspapers, websites bloom underground #fiightcensorship


Fri, 28 September 2012, The observer

BEIRUT — In a country suffocated for decades by state censorship and media control, dozens of independent grassroots newspapers and websites have emerged since the outbreak of the revolt last year.

Most of these pro-revolution outlets operate in a shroud of secrecy, their contributors using pseudonyms for fear of persecution.
But their content is widely read by Syrians hungry for local censorship-free coverage, both inside and outside the country.
Suryitna (Our Syria), Oxygen, Hurriyat (Freedoms) and Enab Baladi (Local Grapes) are just a few newspapers set up by opponents of President Bashar al Assad’s government, which met the uprising that began in March 2011 with brutal repression.
“When we set up Suryitna in September last year, I felt that many peaceful, civil society initiatives were not getting proper coverage,” the independent publication’s chief editor Jawad Abul Muna said.
Most of the “papers” are online, but some activists also print and distribute hard copies in their areas.
“We were so surprised when we found out that hundreds of copies of our paper are being printed in the (central) city of Homs,” some 40 per cent of which is in opposition hands, he added.
“As young Syrians, we wanted to participate and support the revolution in any way we could,” said Abul Muna. “The newspaper is a result of our joint effort.”
Like most Syria-based dissidents, Abul Muna uses a pseudonym.
In a state with an Orwellian track record of censorship and persecuting journalists who dare break the rules, dissidents who have spoken out and been caught have paid a high price, said Abul Muna.
“Anyone suspected of contributing to publications like ours gets jailed,” he said. “Many people have sought refuge outside Syria to avoid that fate.”
Last week, international media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned of the perils facing media workers in the “Bermuda Triangle” of the Syrian conflict.
“We also want to document the history of the past 40 years, which has been blacked out throughout its entirety under (Assad’s) Baath party,” said Abul Muna.
While most readers access Syria’s new publications online, some are printed and handed out. Distribution is carried out secretly and openly in what the opposition refers to as “liberated” zones.
The citizen journalists also face a more mundane obstacle, and that is the lack of funding, said Abul Muna.
“What really worries me is the extent to which our outlets will manage to keep participating in the process of change as time goes on, especially after the fall of the government,” he added.
The citizen journalists behind some of the most popular grassroots projects make no bones about their lack of experience, but take pride in their exercise of free expression.
According to Enab Baladi’s “About Us” section, the online paper is “a space to allow for totally free thought.”
It is published weekly from Daraya, a town southwest of Damascus where more than 500 people were massacred in August, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The government and the fighters of the Free Syrian Army exchanged blame for the killings, though Daraya has been a hotbed of sympathy for the revolt from early on in the uprising.
Four weeks after the horrific massacre became “old news” for much of the rest of the world, the paper’s editorial focused on the need to start rebuilding, and on helping the families of victims to overcome their loss.
“We are witnesses to our history, and we are part of the society that is going through this revolution,” said Enab Baladi’s volunteer chief editor, who identified himself as “Natur.”
“We feel we have a responsibility to speak out and document what is happening around us,” he said via the Internet.
Asked why he thought so many free media initiatives have sprouted in such a short space of time, Natur said: “Free expression is a form of self-defence, a way to resist violence. And after so much violence, we are not afraid any more.”
Natur is open to criticism of Enab Baladi and looks forward to the day that peace will return to Syria, so he and his team of 25 volunteers can move on to running a professional paper.
“Our goal is to run an objective paper that is open to every Syrian’s views,” he said. “Right now, while we’re being shelled, it’s a little hard not to take sides.” — AFP

UN Human Rights Chief Alarmed By Escalating Violence In Syria


High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navane...

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanethem Pillay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(RTTNews) – Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), on Friday expressed “deep alarm” over the increased threat to civilians in unrest-hit Syria, and warned the country’s government as well as the armed opposition of severe consequences if they do not abide by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.

“The Government has the prime responsibility to protect civilians from all forms of violence. While Government forces have on some occasions, in accordance with international humanitarian law, given civilians a clear opportunity to leave areas it is attacking, on other occasions it has not. Effective warning is required by international humanitarian law, Pillay said in a news release issued Friday.

“Civilians and civilian objects – including homes and other property, businesses, schools and places of worship – must be protected at all times. All parties, including the Government and opposition forces, must ensure that they distinguish between civilian and military targets,” she added.

The UN rights chief also expressed particular concerns over the possibility of a major confrontation between Syrian troops and opposition fighters in the country’s second largest city of Aleppo. Syrian forces have surrounded the east part of the city, which was seized by rebels last week. The rebels in Aleppo are currently bracing themselves for the imminent government offensive.

Although the rebels had launched a similar offensive last week to seize the capital city Damascus, their efforts were thwarted by government forces. While several sections of the city witnessed heavy fighting, Damascus has since been secured by Syrian security forces.

“I have been receiving as yet unconfirmed reports of atrocities, including extra-judicial killings and shooting of civilians by snipers, that took place during the recent fighting in various suburbs of Damascus. It goes without saying that the increasing use of heavy weapons, tanks, attack helicopters and – reportedly – even jet fighters in urban areas has already caused many civilian casualties and is putting many more at grave risk,” Pillay noted in Friday’s press release.

Pointing out that the conflict has so far displaced between one and 1.5 million people in Syria, the UN High Commissioner said “a discernible pattern has emerged” as government forces try to clear areas it says are occupied by opposition forces.

“Typically, during the initial stages, after a village or urban district has been surrounded, water, electricity and food supplies are cut. This is followed by intense shelling and bombardment by a variety of weaponry, increasingly with air support from attack helicopters, and now reportedly even jet aircraft. Then tanks move in, followed by ground forces who proceed door-to-door and reportedly often summarily execute people they suspect of being opposition fighters, although sometimes they detain them,” she said.

About the increasing reports of opposition fighters torturing or executing prisoners, Pillay said murder, willful killings and torture, whether committed by government or opposition forces, constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes. She said evidence gathered from various sources indicate that such crimes are being committed in Syria.

“Those who are committing them should not believe that they will escape justice. The world does not forget or forgive crimes like these. This applies to opposition forces committing crimes as well as to Government forces and their allies,” she added.

The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, killed and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. The opposition, however, claims the actual death toll closer to 17,000.

The ongoing conflict in Syria is now viewed as a civil war by most of the international community and has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to seek refuge in camps in neighboring Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.

Syrian Nun Plays Key Role in Medical Underground


By Adel Mansur

WeNews correspondent

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

An activist doctor in Syria has a hero he calls “Sister Nanique.” The Catholic nun stockpiles medical supplies to help treat those wounded in the resistance. Here he tells the story of her recent dangerous mission to Homs.

DAMASCUS, Syria (WOMENSENEWS) — Dr. Fadi has a hero.

He calls her “Sister Nanique” and her name, like his, is changed to protect their safety.

Fadi, an activist doctor, says Sister Nanique has a stash of clean syringes, tetanus injections, surgical tools, serums, bags for collecting blood donations and lots of other medical supplies that have become almost impossible to obtain since the eruption of the Syrian revolution.

She stores them in a small room next to her monastery cell, a place that some in the nation’s underground network of doctors call the “sister’s pharmacy.” These doctors consider that room a key supply source for their work in such devastated places as the city of Homs. A United Nations committee arrived Monday in Syria to monitor a U.N.-brokered ceasefire that some opposition activists said had broken down.

Sister Nanique is a Catholic nun who realized, early on, the vital importance of medication to people wounded since the outbreak of anti-regime protests last March.
She would be in big trouble if caught by her church; in even greater trouble if caught by security forces that have waged a violent campaign to crush dissent and punish anyone helping the opposition.

The government has shelled and raided protest hubs for months, sparking a humanitarian crisis and the flight of thousands of refugees across borders laced with land mines.

More than 12,000 lives have been lost in the bloodshed, according to the watchdog Syrian Network for Human Rights.

There are no hard and fast figures but an estimated 2,000 people have died due to inadequate medical care. Many have died on the perilous road to hospitals in bordering Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

The leaderships of Christian sects in Syria–from the Catholics, to the Orthodox, to the Syriac Orthodox–have all shied away from endorsing the popular uprising or have shown signs of sympathizing with the regime.

But many individual Christians in Syria, such as Sister Nanique, oppose their church’s stance and support the revolution.

Dying for a Bag of Blood

Fadi says that when the central city of Homs was being shelled by the army last month, civilians were dying for a bag of blood, and volunteer doctors were unable to remove the bullets from victims’ bodies because they did not have enough medical tools.

Supplies quickly ran out due to the blockade. Some activists managed to enter the city to help supply ad-hoc clinics in the basements of residential buildings. Many died under sniper fire, according to reports by the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

“Sister Nanique decided to go to Baba Amr when it was under fire, which meant practical suicide,” Fadi says, referring to one of the most devastated parts of Homs. “Getting to Homs was dangerous, let alone Baba Amr. It was the most violently bombarded region in Homs and was surrounded by the army.”

Fadi says he tried to discourage Sister Nanique from going to Baba Amr.

“I could not get her to change her mind, although she was fully aware of the hazard of her mission. There was only one thing she could think of: the fact that more and more people will die if she did not get there and give them the right medication.”

Dodging Suspicion

The nun’s religious attire, or habit, helped her dodge suspicion, Fadi says. “She filled her purse with hundreds of necessary injection needles and empty blood bags which allow people to donate blood to the wounded victims. She then called a fellow nun at a church in Homs, and she headed out to Baba Amr in a church car.”

Fadi says that for two days he lost touch with Sister Nanique because mobile and land lines to Homs had been severed by authorities.

“And then out of nowhere, the phone rang. It was Sister Nanique returning to Damascus after delivering her supplies to Baba Amr. When I saw her, I could read in her face all the suffering and devastation that she saw there. But she made no comment about what she had done, and she did not consider it a heroic act. She just kept on saying that God was the one to protect her.”

Fadi says that Sister Nanique and many other nuns also are providing food and material aid to families who were forced out of their homes or whose houses were destroyed by the shelling.

Many in the opposition believe that the church would like to give open medical assistance to the wounded, but would rather avoid any confrontation with the security authorities. But churches are providing help in the form of nutrition, clothing and shelter.

Sister Nanique feels that is not enough, Fadi says. Hundreds of lives are at stake for lack of medicine or blood transfusion, and hundreds risk losing their limbs for lack of tetanus injections or infection syringes.

That’s why Sister Nanique is doing what she does; because she believes medical assistance is more important than food right now for survival.

http://womensenews.org/story/war/120416/syrian-nun-plays-key-role-in-medical-underground

The writer is a Syrian who is adopting a pseudonym for personal-safety reasons.

Profits of War- cash, construction , medicine, and petrol black markets


Reuters, March 25, 2012

Syria‘s economy might be broken but illegal construction has boomed – the authorities are too busy crushing the revolution – and cash, medicine, and petrol black markets have mushroomed all over

BEIRUT:  While Syria’s economy as a whole has been crippled by violent unrest, there are some people for whom the uprising has created business opportunities. Take building contractor Ahmed, who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of arrest. He has been artfully building unlicensed , small-scale housing while the authorities are distracted with the more pressing task of quelling a revolt. “Yes , yes, I exploit the revolution. The government is preoccupied,” the 48-year-old said from his home in Aleppo, Syria’s northern, sprawling merchant city of 2.5 million people. “I used to do some covert building before, but now I’m fairly public about it,” the entrepreneur added. President Bashar al-Assad‘s forces have killed more than 8,000 people in his drive to crush the year-long uprising, according to the United Nations , with his troops fanning out around the country to try to stamp out the opposition.

Opportunistic builders, loan sharks and black market importers have all done well from the revolt, Syrians say. Urban residents say security firms, selling closed-circuit television cameras and thick steel doors to fretful Syrians who want to beef up home safety, have also seen a boom in sales. Jihad Yazigi, a Damascus-based economist and editor of the English-language Syria Report , said that in the early days of the revolt Syrians saw that inflation would become a threat – the value of the Syrian pound against the dollar has roughly halved since the unrest started. They therefore sought to buy property or build on existing land holdings as an investment.

This strategy appears to have worked, with house values remaining fairly strong in areas not directly caught up in the fighting. “We saw a lot of illegal building in the first few months of the revolution, not only because people were afraid of inflation but because many people had plans to build but they didn’t have licences,” Yazigi said over the telephone from Damascus. He said authorities had since clamped down on illegal building in the capital, while cement and steel prices have risen sharply, making construction more expensive. But in other parts of Syria, the building boom appears to have continued . For Syrian men, owning one’s own property is often a prerequisite to getting married; high demand has driven up house prices. For Syrian fathers, slyly adding a floor or two to the family home is often cheaper than buying apartments for sons.

Cash from chaos

Other entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the chaos in the country’s banking sector, which is reeling from economic sanctions and falling foreign currency reserves; Western and some Arab countries have banned imports of Syrian oil and cut financial ties with Syrian banks, among other steps. Syria’s bank deposits have shrunk almost a third since the unrest began. Few banks are willing to sell scarce foreign currency, for which demand grows as the Syrian pound weakens, and bazaar-based currency traders selling dollars in the central markets of Damascus have profited from panic buying. Bank loans appear nearly impossible to acquire , creating opportunities for unlicensed loan sharks.

Ali, 34, works for his father, a struggling farmer who has been trying to keep the family business alive but has been refused loans from both state-owned and private banks. “My father ended up borrowing money from a loan shark,” Ali said, adding that the loan was a three-month advance at 50 percent interest, with a 25 percent surcharge for late payment. “I was so surprised at how organised it was, and how he had official papers. Everyone is having to take out these loans now and the lenders are working openly while the police are distracted .”

In an effort to preserve foreign currency reserves , the government has increased customs tariffs on some imports to prevent currency from leaving the country. Syrians who are in need of foreign-manufactured goods, such as medical drugs, have been forced to look to the black market.

Lama, a 25-year-old pharmacist in the capital , says there has been a marked increase in the trade of black market drugs. “We have been forced at the pharmacy to deal with smugglers. Medicine is not something that can be postponed. If we don’t boost our supplies using illegal means then customers, especially those with chronic diseases, will try to get smuggled medicine themselves.” And as queues to obtain heating oil and petrol lengthen and the government raises the official prices of fuel, city residents increasingly head to the flourishing black market. Issa, a mid-twenties student in Damascus, said he had noticed a change of business practice in the petrol station where he works parttime . “As fuel prices rise, my boss has hired more people to walk along the queue of cars waiting for petrol. When they see people give up waiting and drive off, they stop them and ask if they want to buy fuel at a higher price,” Issa said. Reuters | Mar 25, 2012 “The queues are so long that people are willing to pay extortionate prices.”

The worse news

However, many people in Syria believe the general economic crisis is so severe that even the most savvy entrepreneurs are probably only breaking even. The government has not provided figures for how the unrest has affected gross domestic product, but Yazigi estimated the economy may have shrunk 15 percent last year and could shrink a further 15 percent or more this year. The government has warned citizens of the possibility of wider energy rationing, blaming terrorists for the sabotage of power plants, in what economists and business leaders say is an effort to conserve scarce fuel.

The Syrian government says these “armed terrorists” have killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police during the unrest. And as the value of the Syrian pound has plummeted, the cost of living has sky-rocketed . Many Syrians are unable to buy anything but the bare essentials. The official inflation rate was 15 percent in January; some basic goods such as sugar, butter, vegetable oil and eggs have risen in price by as much as 100 percent.

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