My parents are Syrian, but I was born in Cyprus and lived in the United Kingdom until I was seventeen, then headed to the United Arab Emirates to study journalism. I never planned on living in Syria, but when I went to visit the country for the first time in 2004, I was arrested, probably because my parents were activists. They left Syria before I was born, and never went back – they were both outspoken critics of the regime, notably the atrocities the Syrian army was committing in Lebanon
. I had a Syrian passport from the Syrian embassy in London, but the authorities in Syria accused me of forging it and forced me to stay until I had a new one made. This took three whole years. I ended up settling in Syria.
I worked as a departmental head for an import-export company that was quite close to the regime. My boss asked me to lead a pro-government rally. I refused and quit my job. Luckily, my boss and I were good friends, so he didn’t report me; others who refused were arrested.
When the big anti-regime protests began, I went out to take part in them and brought a camera. I filmed secret police beating protesters, and shared these images online. I was arrested at a demonstration on March 25. While in detention, I was mildly tortured compared with what’s been done to other people. I was suffocated, and wasn’t allowed to eat, sleep or sit down for three days. And, of course, beaten.
“Syrian state television accused me of being a spy. They also said I was gay. Go figure”
When I was released, I became much more serious. I held a grudge. After a protest where I saw the security forces open fire, another activist told me I should share my story with Al Jazeera. Their journalist asked me what alias I wanted to use. I had the television tuned to MSNBC, where they were interviewing this singer named Alexander Page. So I just used that. CNN called a few minutes later, and used the same name. Then I opened a Twitter account, AlexanderPageSY
. It proved to be a bit of a problem: with this name and my accent, some people thought I was just some British guy posing as a Syrian!
After that, I and other local activists set up a network to connect people to media outlets around the world. We filmed protests, and put the videos on YouTube. Soon, the name Alexander Page was being regularly mentioned on Syrian state television. They accused me of being a spy. They also said I was gay. Go figure.
In early September, I was stopped at a checkpoint, where I ended up in an argument with some of the intelligence guys manning it. They later saw me walking in the street and attacked me. They said, ‘If you don’t keep your mouth shut, we’ll kill you.’ I don’t know if they knew who I was. I told another activist about this, and he told me, ‘If the authorities sent these guys to find you and you don’t report it, you will look suspicious, and they will think that you have done something.’ So I went to a friend of mine who knows an officer in the intelligence service and who reported the incident. But after this, the authorities started monitoring me. They watched me every time I left the house, so I couldn’t take part in demonstrations.
“He told me, ‘leave right away – they’re going to raid your house in the morning’”
I became worried, so I contacted someone with a source in the government to see if my name was on any list. The guy told me, ‘leave right away – they’re going to raid your house in the morning.’ I quickly grabbed a bit of money, and my family and I headed to a border crossing to Jordan. I was afraid my name would be on a list there, but there are over 50,000 people wanted in Syria, some on higher alerts than others, so we were lucky and got through. From Jordan we headed to Egypt, where I have family.
I starting tweeting again as soon I was out of Syria. I need to spend at least 10 hours online every day to keep our network of activists going, and keep them connected to the international media.
I’ve been working with other Syrian activists in Cairo, keeping close tabs on what’s going on back home. We talk to activists in Syria 24/7 through Skype. Looking at the situation now, I find it amazing that people still manage to go out and demonstrate. I wonder, would I do that? It’s gotten so much worse. There are snipers everywhere. It’s no longer just going to protest, it’s like going to war, but without protection. The only protection you get is the videos and photos you bring back to show the world.
One of Rami's tweets shortly after he fled Syria.
“Here in Cairo, I’ve live streamed from Tahrir Square, and filmed snipers up on rooftops”
From the network I was originally part of in Damascus, two activists are missing. We’re certain they’re dead. Others have fled the country. There are only a few of them left from the original network now. Another activist I was close to was tortured to death in Daraya. I really wish I could have stayed.
Here in Cairo I’ve met many Egyptian activists. We learn from each other, though I believe Syrian activists are much more advanced in their techniques. Here there are not as many people constantly filming, because they depend on Al Jazeera and other media outlets. I’ve done some live streaming from Tahrir Square
, and filmed snipers up on rooftops – there was no media there since it was the middle of the night, so many news outlets picked up the footage. But my focus stays on Syria.
We’ve found funding to start a nonprofit organisation, which will launch soon. We’ll continue connecting activists and the media, but we’ll also have our studio, an online television station, a radio and a newspaper. We’re starting in Syria, but there’s room for more work in many countries.”