This is simply outrageous and heartbreakening. I cannot imagine what his parents feel right now. He was arrested when he was 29 and now he will be released when he’s 34. and for what? for not giving the Syrian intelligence the names of people who spoke against the Syrian government in the forum he administrates. Yes, that’s Kareem Arbaji, Kareem is being sentenced because he is defending his friends, he is being sentenced as a punishment, because he defied not the “persona” of the government, but the very “system” of intelligentsia in Syria, where people got accustomed, out of fear and due to torture, to turning each other in to the government. Kareem did nothing “wrong” and said nothing “wrong”, but he paid two years for his “non-Syrian” principles, and now he is paying three more. This is unforgivable, they send children to Europe when they get raped, how you like them now grownups? hypocrite.
This post is not well-documented for I don’t have the time to search for links to support my claims, hence I realize my argument is weak nevertheless I don’t think it’s baseless.
A lot has been said and done, both by Syrian netizens and by western human rights organizations, about the vicious no good evil Syrian regime censorship of websites in Syria. It’s the favorite topic for almost all of the human rights websites and organizations, alternative and mainstream ones, to pin point the illegal censorship policies of certain regimes mostly Syria and Iran.
Whenever a website is found blocked in Syria, these organizations hurry and publish their appealing reports to the western world condemning the act that devalues one of the most important human right to the western world, freedom of speech. A right I think it’s also important to us here in this region, but in a whole different context.
Whenever a prominent blogger or a Syrian/Iranian activist is arrested, or rather, whenever the Syrian regime commits the crime of censorship, reports in the western world never stop from flowing.
But what is not known to many people who follow and salute these human rights organization is that many Syrians are arrested and recently prevented from leaving the country for no explained reasons (which is now considered the threat to Syrians activists than imprisonment) and contrary to a stupid report published here calling US and European officials to put pressure on Syria concerning its human rights record. Only the prominent political prisoners get attention from these organizations and from the mainstream and alternative western media. Of course the case is relatively the same with Syrian human rights organizations, not every Syrian political prisoner or detainee get the same attention from local human rights organizations and many prisoners remain unknown.
My point is that the term “human rights” is never about people’s rights really. It’s one of the major political terms used heavily in political contexts to support or condemn certain people or regimes according to the organization’s agenda or its source of funding agenda. If an authorial regime arrests people who resist its authority, authorial human rights organization support authorial political prisoners and ignore “marginal” ones. If Syria censored websites, all western human rights organizations heavily condemn the illegal act, but these very organizations stay still, and thus become cooperatives, when censorship is practiced “legally” by American websites and corporations like Google, which prevents Syrian users from downloading most of its products like Google Talk, Chrome, Gears, Video chat and from uploading a video to Google Videos.
I cannot upgrade and renew my wordpress account from Syria, because wordpress deals with Paypal and Syria and Lebanon are not listed in its countries’ list to allow me to pay. I have to rely on my friends on other parts of the world to do so. And the only reason I reserved a domain on wordpress is because the domain blogspot is blocked in Syria and I fear wordpress domain might be blocked in the future as well.
So what did Amnesty or Human Rights Watch or Reporters Without Borders have to say about these websites who censor, as the Syrian regime, Syrian users from using their services?
Yes, these three websites have not published not one single report condemning Google or Linkedin or Paypal about their decisions to prevent Syrian users from using their services, but they did however, publish heavily on Syria’s act of censorship. These so called prominent human rights organizations do not condemn the act of censorship itself but rather the doer of that act, and this condemnation always goes hand in hand with the American foreign policy, sorry no, intervention, hmm not really, “imperialistic occupation” in the region, as Azmi Bshara rightly once called it.
From how I see it, human rights organizations are like the United Nations, their job is not to defend people’s rights but rather to show the world who’s in power at the moment. We can see that from Human Rights Watch reports on both of the Zionist war crimes on Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza 2008-09. HRW reports on July war were clearly biased to Israel because the whole world was siding with it, whereas with Gaza, the story was slightly different; HRW can no longer ignore the heavy amount of documentations and visual proofs circulated widely around the world by the Gazans and activists condemning Israel of committing war crimes in sieged Gaza. HRW is not objective and certainly not condemning Israel as much is depicting a historical moment the world is processing right now against Israel as a war-crimes state.
Western human rights organizations are only tools used by authorial western countries to put political pressure on Syrian and Iranian regimes exactly because of their support to Hezbolla and Hamas, the one thing that pleases me about these regimes.
Syrian regime censor websites and arrest people to secure its domination over the country, some American websites prevent us from using their websites because we support Hamas and Hezbolla. President Assad did not claim not once that Syria is a democratic country, but these websites, coming from proud democratic and civilized nation that is, are punishing us Syrians for our democratic choice; supporting resistance. So please, don’t ever talk to me about democracy, human rights and freedom of speech before, and as a starter, put Bush and his soldiers on trial and fucking kill him in front of his people (who elected him) on Christmas as you killed Saddam in front of his people (who did not elect him) on Eid.
This was my contribution in Global Voices Summit, I wrote this to present it in the Summit but i had problems with Lebanese security in the air port, so Yazan Badran was kind enough to present it on my behalf:
I thought about what to say in ten minutes about internet censorship in Syria. I thought that listing information and reporting cases will do no good to anyone as we thankfully have Google. So I thought about sharing with you my current thoughts about “freedom of speech” and its reductive meanings as a person who experienced and blogged about censorship in Syria.
To give you a brief idea about Tariq Baiasi’s case, Tariq is a Syrian blogger who wrote a comment that is critical to the Syrian regime, he left the comment on a website considered suspicious by the government, he was detained on July the 7th. 2007 and a year later on May 11, 2008 he received a verdict of three-year sentence for the following charges:
1- Dwindling the national feeling.
2-Weakening the national ethos.
So the question goes, why did Free Tariq campaign fail?
We failed for so many reasons, the trigger was that one of our members was harassed by the government and was about to be detained like Tariq, so we decided to shut down the campaign website, and I shut down my blog as well for my own safety.
But mainly, and mostly, I think the failure explains exactly why ‘activism,’ ‘volunteerism’, and ‘freedom of speech,’ are just terms without empirical meaning in Syria. The campaign failed because it did not address the people locally. and most importantly, because “freedom of speech” in itself as a term is not and becomes not the “people’s” concern as much as it is the elitists’. To give you an idea what I mean by the elitists: 10 % in Syria use the internet according the Human rights Watch. And mostly it is used by the youth for chatting due to the sexual segregation in most of the Syrian cities and villages except those on the coast like Latakia and Tartus.
To get back to our topic, let me share with you some few Syrian bloggers’ take on Free Tariq campaign and perhaps through them we can get a glance on what I am trying to say:
1- many Syrian bloggers and viewers sent us emails asking what exactly did Tariq write in his comment.
2- Another blogger asked if Tariq is a Muslim Brotherhood fellow due to his beard in his picture on the campaign website.
3- Another blogger told me that since he is “Islamists” and we’re leftists and secularists; let’s leave him to his fellow islamists.
And this was the case, people support who is one of them, and don’t support who isn’t, but most importantly and dangerously I think, people need a reason to support the detainee and oppose abuse.
Many people asked me what Tariq wrote in his comment, but no one knows because the security officers erased everything, and I honestly don’t care if he is leftist or islamists and I don’t care about what he wrote in that comment, someone wrote what he has to say and for that he was detained for a year and now he is serving three year sentence, period.
The regime succeeded in letting people believe that we need good reasons to allow people to speak, now we need to follow a certain standard before we are allowed to speak. We failed because censorship is not just on speech, but on how we think, how we read, how we watch TV and the news, how we make love, get dressed and walk in the street.
The campaign failed because freedom of speech is a borrowed concept, I repeat, it is a borrowed concept and it is performed in an un-local manner, in the sense that we oppose actions without explaining on the ground why they’re wrong in the first place. it is being dealt with as a priority just because the world thinks so while the major issues in syria are not addressed yet. That’s why people won’t move with any campaigns of the sort, because we are facing a larger censorship; censorship of the mind, before that of the speech.
Let’s remember why we campaign in the first place? What are our goals? Intentions? Who we target? Isn’t “change” what we seek? Don’t we want to make a change in our realities? Make a better life? I personally hope so, but now I abandoned this way of changing my reality. In Syria, I think an economical reform is only what paves the way into other forms of reforms.
In Syria, virtual censorship is authentically virtual, because the true censorship is religious and social before it is political, it is inside our homes, schools, jobs, Mosques and churches, it is in the streets and everyday. The challenge is to address people because they’re the change, not the governments, and activism in Syria addresses its opposers and itself only.
To experience censorship means you don’t get the chance to experience life. And that’s the case in Syria, at least to me, before we defend speech, activists need to learn how to defend life, I am not a life lover though! (hinting to a lebanese party.) ;-)