Revolutionary media with the beginning of armament: denial and credibility negligence
The Syrian revolution continued to be a peaceful one for about 6 months, at that time no one thought that talking about violations will involve any one but the Syrian regime, considering him the sole committer of violations in Syria. Hundreds of videos have been documented by the Syrian revolution activists and its emerging media reporters, who were considered widely trust worthy inside and outside Syria, and were depended on as a trusted source of the news from inside Syria, since the Syrian regime prevented the media to enter the country as well as the exposed “scandalous” lying that marked the official media performance.
The revolution never took a conscious central decision of heading towards armament, as the revolution never had, and still has not have, a central leadership that is capable of making such decisions, therefore, armament and militarization were not inclusive on all of the Syrian land, so such tendency was ruled by local and regional particularities, as well as the regime’s reactions and the amount of crimes and violations the regime committed against residents of different regions, how much arms did they have and the fact that they owned arms before the revolution.
The Syrian regime sought, through his media performance, to discredit the revolutionary media as well as the Arab media supportive of the revolution, therefore the regime fabricated some fictitious crimes, then presented the real story in order to show the revolutionary media as liars, a notable example would be the story of Zeinab AlHomsi, published by Souriatna newspaper in its first edition.
The violations practically started with the beginning of the revolution’s armament, generally speaking the revolutionary media took advantage of the trust granted to them in order to cover up the mistakes and violations by revolution rebels, believing that this trust will last forever. Many times the revolutionary media published saying that the clashes the Free Syrian army launched against the army’s checkpoints, which spread in different areas, were actually clashes within the army itself as a result of the split of a number of army members who begin shooting the army, this does not mean that those split did not really happen, but they were certainly not as many as the revolutionary media has pictured at that period of coverage time at the beginning of the spread of armament phenomenon inside the revolution. We have two examples of two statements published by “Souriatna”, which is the sole newspaper that has been publishing regularly and ongoing ever since that moment, in its second edition under the name the democratic “future” alliance, rafting “the rebels of the city of Homs” respectively in regards to the assassination of some university professors in Homs, as the two statements consider, in two different formats, that this crime was committed by the regime in order to stop the discord in Syria.
In addition to all that have been mentioned, there was the revolutionary public pressure against anyone who criticizes the practices of the rebels, especially if they were from the Free Army. We remember the intense public resentment following Burhan Ghalioon’s statement, President of Syrian National Council back then, on November, 17th, 2011; “we are at a crossroads: either freedom or abyss”, where he warned that we have been witnessing “for weeks now kidnapping, assassinations and settling scores among the sons and daughters of the same people, moreover among the sons of the revolution itself, which represents a serious threat to the gains of the revolution.” Ghalioon’s statement, while understanding how difficult it is to approach this point, especially with the opposition’s exploit for actions conducted by some within the political blackmail frame that, unfortunately, marked the behavior of the opposition, points the to the fact that the revolution and its media began to realize that ignoring and neglecting mistakes will lead to the spread and expansion of these mistakes at the end.
Alternative Media: An early alert of the revolution’s mistakes
The writer Mohammad Deebo states in an opinion piece published by “Souritana” in its fourth edition; “shedding the light on the sectarian situation does not aim at distorting the uprising or at giving the regime an excuse to use against the uprising, on the contrary, it aims at fully understanding our reality in order to employ it in the service of the uprising and to avoid what the tyrant authority wants us to fall into.” This refers to the early recognition of the importance of highlighting the mistakes of the revolution by the newspapers, as we can find in edition number 9, three days after Ghalioon’s earlier mentioned statement, in which the newspaper publishes a statement condemning the civilians’ kidnapping of both Sunnis and Alawites inside the city of Homs.
The Arab media supporting the revolution (especially Al Jazeera and Al Arabia), did not help in this regards, as the criticism against the revolution was often allowed on these channels by supporters of the regime, which is something that the rebels would meet with a deaf ear and would never gain their trust, and as a result the revolution’s mistakes have become worsen over time and were no longer able to hide these mistakes, not to mention that the reliability of the revolutionary media was at stake, to have the global channels establishing their own channels inside Syria away from the Syrian Revolution Coordinators and their Public Information formations.
The same kind of dealing ruled the revolutionary media towards strange phenomena, which started to emerge since the beginning of 2011, especially Nusra Front, which claimed responsibility for Al Maydan’s bombing on January 6th, 2011, which was considered in turn a product of the regime by “Souritana”, in its article “Why?” “Enab Baladi” believed in its second edition issued in February 2012, that Aleppo’s bombing, also claimed responsibility by Nusra Front, was fabricated by the regime “who fabricated Al Maydan bombings”. We have referred in an earlier detailed research regarding the alternative newspapers coverage of Jihadist organizations to this topic.
We are not looking at following the path of alternative media step by step since the beginning, as it is hard, not to mention that it does not within our subject, but what is important is shedding the light on the mechanism that ruled the revolutionary media, since printed media began at a relatively late stage; for example, “Souritana” was issued six months after the beginning of the revolution, while Enab Baladi was issued after almost ten months, therefore, these newspapers were alert at their first issues to the necessity of discussing the mistakes of the revolution in a rational way, despite the fact that the revolutionary media mechanism, above described, has ruled these newspapers at times.
All of this does not of course mean that either of “Souritana” or “Enab Baladi” accused the regime of the bombings of Al Maydan and Aleppo while they knew the truth, since that opinion “the regime’s fabrication of Al Qaida” was very common among the revolution back then, but it gives us an indication of how confused the alternative media was at its beginnings towards ambiguous phenomena at their beginnings, such as “Nusra”, and later “Daash/ISIS”, accusing the regime straight away with no scrutiny at times, considering those bombings to be plots of the regime, to find out later that they are actually not.
Over time, everything that used to be once minimal, now lies at the core of the Syrian revolution; armament became the title of the Syrian revolution and its only bearer, accordingly the committed violations by the revolution increased. With the failure of the Syrian Free Army to turn from a loose umbrella into a military institution that follows a strict military system, the Russian refute of the political path through the veto in the Security Council and the fierce sectarian attack launched by Iran in cooperation with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the regional supporters of the Syrian revolution were convinced that responding to this attack would be through supporting a speech similar in strength but contradictory in orientation, which in this case would be the Jihadist-Salafism.
Targeted by all parties
The revolutionary mistakes increased with the spread of armament as we mentioned, then those mistakes doubled even more till they drifted the revolution from its path with the general tendency in favor of Jihadist-Salafism, and through following the coverage of alternative newspapers (we followed in this article six newspapers that form the backbone of the Syrian network of printed media) we found that these newspapers have adopted an obvious critical stand of the violations regardless of their committer, and they were not involved, as far as we knew, in either supporting or justifying any violation under any name, the thing that made these newspapers a target for many violations.
“All Syrians” newspaper published, in its 44 edition, a summary of a report prepared by the Syrian Center for press freedom in the Syrian journalists’ association, that analyzes the violations committed against journalists and media centers in Syria during the fourth quarter of 2015; the Syrian regime has taken over the lead in the list of responsible for violations by committing 31% of them, while the Democratic Union party came in second, contributing with 19% of the violations, and the State’s organization came in third with 17%, as for the rest, it was recorded with unknown committer, in addition to Russia who killed three journalists.
We tracked newspapers through following their coverage of the kidnap of the four activists of the city of Duma (Razan Zaitouneh, Nazem Hamdi, Wael Hammadi, Samira Khalil) since the 9th of December, 2013 till today, and we “restructure” the story of Razan and her friends as told by the alternative media, in order to highlight the benefit of this media in immortalizing the memory and keeping the case alive in public circulation.
What is Razan Zaitouneh‘s story?
In a report published by Enab Baladi in 203 edition regarding the coverage of alternative media of woman’s case in Syria, the newspaper published an introduction about Razan Zaitouneh, we include some parts of that report in here.
Razan Zaitouneh, born in Damascus 1977, graduated from the Faculty of Law in 1999. She started as a lawyer-in-training in the office of the lawyer and Syrian opposition figure Haitham AlMaleh. She is a member of the defensive team for political and opinion detainees since that time, she was also a founding member of the Human Rights Association in Syria and continued to work with the association till 2004. She established an Information Human Rights link in Syria to serve as a database for the violations committed in 2005, in addition to her activity in the supporting committee for the families of political detainees in Syria, and with the beginning of the revolution in 2011, she participated in establishing Local Coordination Committees and Violations Documentation Center that was later moved to the city of Duma due to security pressure practiced by Assad regime over her family.
In the fourth edition for “All Syrians” newspaper mid-2014, Nour Abdullah lists the awards Razan has won after the revolution for her activity; she won Anna Politkovskaya award in 2011 for defending Human Rights in Syria, in the same year she was awarded Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament, in 2012 she was awarded Ibn Rushed prize for Freedom of thought and in 2013 she was granted the International Women of Courage Award offered by the US State Department.
The Local Coordination Committees were the first revolutionary groups emerging after the revolution. They were able to gain a huge credibility in the field of news inside and outside Syria. The Committees also participated in forming the Syrian National Council October 2011, as well as the Syrian National Coalition in November 2012.
Razan wrote in many alternative media newspapers, and her writings reflect her keenness on treating the revolution’s mistakes and deviations. In the opening of the fourth edition of Enab Baladi, Razan wished for the victory of the revolution; “a complete victory, our freedom over their chains, our love over their hatred, our justice over their oppression, our humanity over their brutality, a complete victory in which we avoid imitating our executioner, whether it be towards each other or among each other.”
Razan Zaitouneh wonders in the 56th edition of “Souritana” about the Free Army negligence to the civilians’ calls, “it is no longer useful to say that this battalion or that is climbing over the revolution and impersonating the Free Army’s name, the violations and malpractices clearly exist within the battalions and brigades known by name”, to finish her article with words directed to the Free Army “you are the protectors of our land, bring back the meaning to this phrase.”
Razan condemns in edition no. 75 of “Souritana”, issued on February, 24th, 2014, the attack targeted at those who shed light on the violations of the battalions against civilian activists, “the revolution is destined to failure if we surrender to new dictators,” she also criticizes Free Army battalions, in edition no. 28 of “Freedom Raise (Talaana Ala Horya)” newspaper, which was published by Local Coordination Committees back then, the fact that they “devoted themselves to relief acts”, interfered in people’s matters and civil actions and spent money in the wrong places (on fronts), considering that this behavior came as a result of the financier’s beliefs, who aimed at imposing his ideology.
The oppression and security pursuing coincided with liberating the eastern Ghouta from the regime’s forces, which forced Razan Zaitouneh to move to Duma in April 2013, according to the writer Yassin Haj AlSaleh (whose wife, Samira Khalil, one of the kidnapped, went to Duma a month after them. She is a freedom fighter and has been detained in the regime’s prisons for years) in an article in edition no. 58 of Freedom Raise (Talaana Ala Horya), where the team of Violations Documentation Center continued their work.
Razan Zaitouneh and the writer Yassin Haj AlSaleh were harassed in Duma. Razan also received serious threats of murder, two months before her kidnap, by one of the known fighting battalions in Ghouta, if she does not leave Duma within three days. Razan Zaitouneh refused the threat “I am not here on a mission, I came to live”, preferring to be part of the siege and deprivation the residents of Ghouta were experiencing, as we read in edition no. 95 in “Enab Baladi”. Ismail Haidar rings an alarming bell in edition no. 86, as he sees “that the unity of the revolution forces has become a necessity, since without it, the regime is heading towards control and victory”, criticizing later the revolution’s attempts to hold Razan and Yassin Haj AlSaleh accountable, while, on the other hand, we see forces of different inclinations united in one goal and that is supporting the regime.
This was the most sensitive phase of the revolution, with the fall of the city of Al-Raqqa into factional chaos after many thinking otherwise, and the name of the Islamic State began to appear on the Syrian arena as an essential player, especially in the north of Syria, where they started an inclusive assault targeting the most notable activists. Exchanged assassinations among Salafist jihadist’s factions spread with a prevailed overbid religious speech among these factions, who found themselves forced to continue with the Salafist speech to the extreme out of fear of losing their elements in favor of the Islamic State. The civilian activists and activity were the first victims of this civil war among brothers of the same approach.
In December 9th, 2013, Razan Zaitouneh was kidnapped along with the activist Samira Khalil, Wael Hamadeh and activist and poet Nazem Hammadi in her residential place in Duma. Till this moment, their whereabouts are still unknown and the identity of the kidnappers uncertain. Kidnappers also stole their personal tools and all of the electronic devices.
What did alternative media write about the kidnap?
All alternative newspapers covered the kidnap news of the four activists. “Enab Baladi” accused the Army of Islam, reporting through activists in edition no. 95, while “Souritana” published a statement in 117 edition entitled “Defenders of human rights are being arrested by the dark forces on the International Human Rights Day”, where it condemns this act and called for an immediate release, considering this act falls into the interest of the regime. The prominent pro-opposition Najati Tayyara in edition 119, called the leaders of rebelling battalions in Ghouta, Army of Islam and the Islamic Front to correct the mistake and back off it, “and by doing so, they may leave us with some hope in this revolution, which is meant for us to lose all strings of hope in it”, whereas, Diab Sariyeh writes an editorial “urbanization”, edition no. 13, about “hijacking the revolution”, in which he holds Zahran Alloush responsible for being the notable faction in the area, reminding him that Razan used to defend him, when he was detained in prison.
Moataz Mourad wrote, in one of the opinion pieces in Enab Baladi edition no. 95, an article in which he considers the kidnap of Razan demolishes the saying that the Free Army replaces the regime’s army, in addition it offers the Syrian regime a free gift, since they are the most pleased for the disappearance of Razan, while in his article, Ahmad Ash-Shami resembles each of Razan Zaitouneh, Yahya Sharbaji and Ghayath Matar to Mandela in an article “Arabs’ Mandela”.
“Freedom Raise (Talaana Ala Horya)” newspaper stopped publishing after the kidnap of Razan, to come back 5 months later. Editor, Leila Safadi, wrote an editorial, in edition 38, stressing that “Whatever… there is no choice for Syrians but to keep on living and trying, amid all of these atrocities and the dark future, we do not possess the luxury of giving up any glimmer of light”. The return of “Talaana Ala Horya” was also covered by Enab Baladi in edition no. 125.
One month after the kidnap, Violations Documentation Center published a statement clarifying some facts, “Souritana” republished it in 124, “during the months following the kidnap incident, some battalions tried to escape their legal and moral responsibilities in finding the perpetrators, bringing them to justice and bringing the kidnaped ones back to their homes, in fact some battalions did absolutely nothing in this regards”, asserting that they will follow the case at the temporary Syrian courts inside Syria until justice is served.
Army of Islam denied any connection to the kidnap, announcing that their units are on the alert to pursue the case, which did not happen according to the statement we previously mentioned, the thing that pushed the writer, edition no. 3 of “All Syrians”, to resemble Alloush to Bashar al-Assad in terms of dictatorship, not to mention the rage stirred by Alloush’s denouncement, in a press conference he held in Ghouta in August 2014, the focus on Razan Zaitouneh, while “Muslim women” are being neglected, calling activists to make lists of all kidnapped women, which is something that Razan used to do herself.
“All Syrians” published in edition no. 9, the news of Razan’s winning the Global Leadership Award presented by Vital Voices organization in June 2014, while she was kidnaped.
The accused who fled
The alternative media pursued the case step by step, they were always keen on keeping the case in public circulation, therefore, in edition no. 117, while covering the opening of “Women now” center in Duma, Enab Baladi focused on Razan Zaitouneh’s role in the center’s opening, while in edition no. 171, they raised a question regarding Razan’s fate when meeting the media spokesman of Ajnad al-Sham Islamic union, who asserted that “the accused of Razan Zaitouneh’s kidnap has fled, as her abductor is not one of the civilians but rather a military formation, and at that time there were too many military formations that it was not possible to accuse one in particular.”
The story of the fugitive was published by Al-Jumhuriya website, run by Yassin Haj Saleh, husband of Samira Khalil, one of the kidnapped, and was republished by “All Syrians” edition no. 31, “as a local court in Duma interrogated the accused Hussein El-Shazly, who admitted responsibility for sending threats in front of the local judicial system in Duma. It is a known fact that Zahran Alloush visited Hussein Al-Shazly in prison and requested a private meeting, upon rejecting his request, he ranted, vowed and threatened to free his man, which what happened indeed a while later, as Zahran arranged to smuggle the accused. The second man after Zahran in the Army of Islam was the one who assigned him to write the threats.”
The articles and campaigns calling for releasing the four activists continued all the time, most newspapers that we followed covered the campaign launched by activists on the first anniversary of the kidnap incident, as in edition 168 of “Souritana”, a protest organized by activists went out based upon Zahran Alloush’s visit to Turkey in April 2015, “Souritana” covered the protest in edition no. 188, it was also covered by “All Syrians” in edition no. 31, Maisa Hammadi published about her kidnapped activist brother Nazem Hammadi in edition 54 of “Raise Freedom”, and about the death of Nazem’s father in edition 56. Till today, alternative newspapers continue to highlight the case, “Tamddon (Urbanization)” newspaper publishes photos of the four kidnapped in “every edition” appended with the statement “a traitor is the one who kidnaps a revolutionist.”
The regime is the one who kidnapped Razan Zaitouneh, is it possible?
On the second anniversary of the kidnap, Ziad Ibrahim discusses a theory of Razan’s kidnap by the regime, in edition no. 61 of “Raise Freedom”, since, according to Ibrahim, the regime arrested one of the founders of Local Coordination Committees in September 2013, who spent a year and a few months in prison, then he spent another few months in Damascus before he was able to leave Damascus to one of the neighboring countries after his health has improved.
Ibrahim explains that security investigators, while interrogating the mentioned activist, under torture, were able to get all the information about Razan, her place of residence in Duma, her daily life and everything related to her, then they said to him” we have many bearded men in Eastern Ghouta who can bring her over here”, what supports the theory of the regime being the kidnapper.
A firm stand against violations
Apart from the four kidnapped case, the alternative media newspapers (which we followed), today take a firm stand against whatsoever violations, we concluded this through following all editions of these newspapers during the past months, and it is hard to include everything that these newspapers wrote about this subject in here, therefore, we will quickly refer to some materials.
In edition 171, Enab Baladi published an article entitled “violations against the Arabs of Hasaka”, which resulted in a statement made by the Self-management in Afrin (a district as well as a city in northern Syria) preventing this edition into the city. In edition 54 of “Freedom Raise (Talaana Ala Horya)”, we read an article entitled “Abdul Razaq’s military Academy, a factory to produce professional killing machines”, which talks about Abdul Razaq’s efforts, the sergeant who split from the Syrian army in Ahtimalat city, where he allocated the academy to receive only children and minors with the consent of their families. In the editorial of edition 46 of “All Syrians” and under the title “when tyrants become allies”, the editor attacks Nusra Front as they have revealed their true face and attacked the protesters in Maaret Al-Numan accusing them of blasphemy and apostasy. In edition 13, we read an important article in “Tamaadon (Urbanization)” about the innocents in Aleppo who are being killed by the regime’s barrels or the oppositions’ mortar bombs with a distinction between the volume of each, while “Sada Al Sham” presented a complete file in edition 117, regarding the Syrian island and the issue of the Democratic Union party in it, it also discussed extensively and objectively the violations committed by the People Protection units, such as, the ethnic displacement against the Arabs in the area, as well as the compulsory and forced conscription carried by the units in order to spread their control over more areas among others.
As we have seen, the Syrian alternative media have changed their editorial policy and began to focus more on the revolutionary mistakes and how to correct them instead of denial and attempting to blame the responsibility of everything on the regime, the regime is the one who benefits most from the revolution’s mistakes, but that does not necessarily mean that the regime is the guilty one. The alternative media also highlighted the violations regardless of its committer, therefore, alternative media was banned and blocked by all parties starting with “Ahrar al-Sham” who control Bab El-Hawa border crossing and frequently prevent the entry of alternative newspapers to Syria, passing through People’s Protection units who banned “Ein El-Medina” because it contained educational illustrative materials about the Islamic State, not to mention the Syrian regime and State’s regulation who always have the bigger share in committing violations against freedom of expression.
The alternative media may participate in keeping any case lively in circulation, as we have seen the alternative media articles’ were able to put up the pieces of a whole story together and provide a comprehensive knowledge of its facts, therefore, it is important for alternative media newspapers to arrange joint campaigns to claim those believed to be the kidnappers from all different parties, rather than focusing on the case of the four kidnapped.