(Anaheim, Calif., 6/6/2011) – Some 200 Syrian Americans packed a hall in La
Mirada, Calif., Wednesday to organize their efforts to promote freedom and
democracy in Syria and to stop the Syrian regime’s killing of its citizens
The town hall meeting was jointly hosted by the Los Angeles chapters of the
Syrian American Council (SAC) and the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF).
The organizers said the event was the first time local Syrian Americans,
representing the religious and ethnic diversity in Syria, publicly assembled
to support human rights and democracy in Syria. Previously, fear of the
Assad regime’s reprisals on family members in Syria kept most from speaking
The program included briefings on the situation in Syria and on local
efforts to support the people’s freedom movement in that country, and a
viewing of eyewitness videos of the protests and attacks in Syria to remind
attendees of the urgency of continuing to push for a safe and free Syria.
Presenters also described the recent “Freedom for Syria” day organized by
SAC in Washington, D.C. on May 24, which included meetings with members of
Congress, a protest at the Syrian Embassy, a rally at the White House, and
planning sessions to organize support for the Syrian people.
“As Syrian Americans, we are in a unique position to support the people in
Syria who are bravely marching for their rights even while being attacked,”
said SAC-LA spokesman Nour Douchi. “At the town hall meeting, the room was
full of enthusiasm and passion as local Syrian Americans felt empowered for
the first time to help support democracy and freedom in Syria.
“Our gathering and the efforts that will follow sends a message to the
doubters and Syrian government supporters in this area that the freedom
movement is not afraid to assemble in public,” said SETF-LA Coordinator
Kahf said attendees pledged to join the local efforts for Syrian freedom,
volunteering to help with public and social media campaigns, meetings with
U.S. government officials, protests, phone and letter-writing campaigns, and
Founded in 2005, the Syrian American Council (SAC) has grown in the wake of
the brutal Syrian government crackdown on its people when they began
demonstrating for freedom and self-determination. Its mission is to mobilize<a
Syrian Americans to strengthen civil society in Syria, to promote friendly
relations between the Syrian and American peoples, to engage civic and
governmental organizations to advance civil liberties and human dignity in
Syria, and to encourage international cooperation based on international law
Contact: Nour Douchi (SAC-LA), email@example.com, 951-444-8344 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 951-444-8344 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; Ammar
Kahf (SETF-LA), firstname.lastname@example.org, (213) 258-1416
IT WAS the torture of elementary-school students in Deraa that gave momentum to the uprising against Bashar Assad’s brutal regime in Syria. The children, some as young as 10, were picked up by security agents for scrawling antigovernment graffiti on a school wall. When they were released days later, there were cigarette burns on their bodies, and the fingernails had been pulled from their hands. Word of the torture spread, fueling further protest. The government’s response has been a crackdown with appalling new levels of cruelty.
“The stories we hear now are unimaginable in their brutality,’’ a former Syrian intelligence officer who has turned against the regime told The Wall Street Journal recently. “It is not only to deter protesters. They enjoy hurting people for the sake of it.’’ One such victim, a shopkeeper from Homs, was seized after leaving a protest. As described by the Journal, the man was slashed with a scalpel on his back, then stitched up without anesthetic and beaten on the wounds. He was “kept naked and blindfolded in a room packed with detainees and excrement,’’ where he listened to his cousin being burned with a poker, and was told to “kneel in prayer’’ before a portrait of Assad.
Syria, a human-rights hellhole where more than 1,000 protesters have been murdered in recent weeks, is among the “Worst of the Worst’’ — the 17 countries identified by Freedom House as the most repressive societies on earth. Founded in 1941 to promote democratic liberty worldwide, Freedom House publishes annual surveys that show a world notably freer than it was 30 years ago, when the Iron Curtain still stood. But little of that light has penetrated to the nations needing it most.
Three-fourths of the countries included in Freedom House’s “Worst of the Worst’’ have been on the list for more than 25 years. They include North Korea, Somalia, Cuba, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, China, Libya, and Syria. The endurance of those regimes — which perpetuate themselves through violence, fear, and the ruthless persecution of dissent — illustrate, as Freedom House puts it, “the deep entrenchment of the antidemocratic power structures in these countries and the difficulty of influencing them in any meaningful way.’’
But atrocious dictatorships are sustained as well by the willingness of free nations to turn a blind eye to their crimes — or, worse, to make excuses for them. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was justly slammed in March when she labeled Syria’s Assad a “reformer,’’ but Washington’s appeasement of Damascus has long been a bipartisan project. The same is true of the zeal with which Americans and other Westerners seek to “engage’’ other human-rights villains from Beijing to Riyadh. There may be good reasons to do business with the likes of China and Saudi Arabia, but there is never a good reason to deny the moral gulf that separates totalitarian regimes from their subjects — and from us.
The New York Times reported last week on the thriving commerce between the United States and Equatorial Guinea, a tiny African despotism where torture and corruption are rife, and which Freedom House has ranked for decades among the “Worst of the Worst.’’ US oil companies have billions of dollars invested there, a US military contractor provides maritime security and police training, and until March former Bill Clinton aide Lanny Davis even had a million-dollar-a-year deal to improve the image of Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the country’s vicious dictator.
Not surprisingly, US diplomats haven’t spoken bluntly about Obiang’s hateful rule. Instead (in diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks) they have praised his “mellowing, benign leadership’’ and advised Washington “to abandon a moral narrative’’ when dealing with Equatorial Guinea.
But refusing to tell the truth about the world’s most evil regimes, as Mario Vargas Llosa argued upon receiving the Nobel Prize for literature last year, only prolongs their brutality.
“Dictatorships must be fought without hesitation, with all the means at our disposal,’’ he said. “It is regrettable that democratic governments, instead of setting an example by making common cause with those, like the Damas de Blanco in Cuba, the Venezuelan opposition, or Aung San Suu Kyi and Liu Xiaobo, who courageously confront the dictatorships they endure, often show themselves complaisant not with them but with their tormenters.
“Those valiant people, struggling for their freedom, are also struggling for ours.’’
(New York Times) CAIRO — Syrian tanks took up positions outside the city of Hama on Saturday, where tens of thousands of people took to the streets to mourn the deaths of at least 65 protesters gunned down by security forces there the day before.
The government’s violent crackdown against a three-month-old popular uprising continued, with helicopter gunships killing 10 people in a neighboring province and residents of Hama bracing for a military assault that would be the first on the city since the government bombed it in 1982, killing at least 10,000 people.
With memories of that massacre still vivid, Hama had been slow to join the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
But on Friday, protesters poured out of mosques and marched in record numbers toward the city’s main square, said a 27-year-old resident who gave his name as Hassan, many carrying roses to give to security forces. Before they reached the square, Al Aasy, security forces opened fire.
“They didn’t warn us with speakers or fire tear gas at us,” Hassan said. “They began shooting directly at us. They wanted to kill all of us, not frighten us back to our homes.”
As the gunshots rang out, clouds of tear gas filled the streets and throngs of protesters scrambled for cover. A few stood their ground and hurled stones at attacking security forces, according to YouTube videos provided by the Local Coordinating Committees in Syria, an activist group documenting the protest movement and the crackdown.
“God is great!” protesters shouted as they pulled one man, shot in the head, into a blood-soaked alley, the constant rattle of gunfire sounding behind them.
So many were treated for gunshot wounds at local hospitals that blood supplies ran low, residents said. Throughout the night, loudspeakers on mosques normally used for calls to prayer urged people to donate blood.
Activists warned that the number of fatalities was likely to rise as bodies were identified. Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said doctors at three hospitals had reported a total of 80 deaths.
On Saturday, funeral processions drew as many as 100,000 mourners into the streets, said Razan Zeitouneh, an activist. That pattern — protest, crackdown, mourning and protest — has been repeated hundreds of times across the Middle East since a season of revolution dawned six months ago in Tunisia, reshaping the region’s political order.
The funerals were “like a protest,” said Abu Abdo, a resident reached by telephone. Security forces were absent from the town and both the police station and the local headquarters of the governing Baath Party were empty, he said. Residents declared a general strike and barricaded the streets out of town with garbage bins, bracing for whatever the government had in store.
“We will continue to protest,” he said. “No more fears.”
By sunset though, dozens of tanks had massed at the city’s southern entrance, said activists from the Coordinating Committees.
The gathering forces have a special, chilling resonance in Hama. In 1982, President Hafez al-Assad, the current president’s father, responded to another popular uprising there with a bombardment that leveled much of the town and killed at least 10,000 people.
The name Hama became a warning, seared into the national consciousness as proof of how far the government was willing to go to crush dissent.
Residents were wary of risking a reprise, and protests in Hama have been scattered and slow to gather momentum. But the number of those protesting appears to have swelled recently, with far more taking to the streets on Friday than ever before.
Compared with 1982, the current crackdown has produced far fewer casualties. Still, since the uprising began in mid-March, activists say that more than 1,000 people have been killed, and that the brutality appears to increase week by week as government security forces move from city to city.
“Every week they choose a city to take revenge on,” Ms. Zeitouneh said. “It is Hama’s turn.”
In neighboring Idlib Province on Saturday, Syrian forces used helicopter gunships for the first time. They bombarded the village of Jisr al-Shughour for more than half an hour, killing 10 people and sending dozens of families fleeing to Turkey, activists said.
They also said 50 people were arrested in the coastal city of Baniyas.
In the protests on Friday, the deaths were not confined to Hama. Activists said seven people were killed in Al Rastan; one in Damascus; two in the village of Has in Idlib; two children, ages 13 and 16, in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour; and two children in Dara’a, the southern town that gave birth to the uprising.
Internet service slowly returned to much of Syria on Saturday but remained shut off in Hama, Idlib and Dara’a. The blackout on Friday, which had disabled two-thirds of the country’s Web connections, seemed aimed at strangling the flow of YouTube videos and Twitter and Facebook posts that have fed the revolt. Phone service, water and electricity have also been severely disrupted in many parts of the country, activists said.
The Internet’s partial return allowed activists to compare notes and tally the death toll from protests the previous day, which organizers on Facebook dedicated to the memory of the children killed in the crackdown.
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According to the Internet monitoring organization Renesys, starting from 6:35 a.m. local time, on Friday, two-thirds of all Syrian networks were suddenly unreachable from the global Internet. “Over the course of roughly half an hour, the routes to 40 of 59 networks were withdrawn from the global routing table,” the organization said.
On the other hand, Renesys said that the reachable one-third networks belonged to the Syrian government. Renesys’ chief technology officer, James Cowie said “the network prefixes that remain reachable include those belonging to the Syrian government, although many government websites are slow to respond or down.”
“The Oil Ministry is up, for example, and Syrian Telecom‘s official page, but the Ministry of Education is down, as is the Damascus city government page, and the Syrian Customs website”, he noted.
According to the local network of activists in Syria, security forces killed more than 60 people in Hama, and over 50,000 people marched in the city’s largest protest at the same day.
Human rights organization, Amnesty International pointed out that in some North African and Middle Eastern countries, a “critical battle” is happening in the world of Internet and mobile-phone networks.
Renesys updated that around 10 p.m. local time, seven of 40 networks returned and the rest came back after 7 a.m. on Saturday.
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