Syria’s media war: are the protesters peaceful or violent?
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Over the past few days, Syria’s state television, as well as YouTube channels linked to the government, have been showing videos of people they say are protesters taking up arms. This, if true, would be at odds with the opposition’s proclaimed efforts to keep protests peaceful. Two Syrian anti-government activists tell us what they think of these videos.
Over the past few days, Syria’s state television, as well as YouTube channels linked to the government, have been showing videos of people they say are protesters taking up arms. This, if true, would be at odds with the opposition’s proclaimed efforts to keep protests peaceful.
Despite thousands of people taking to the streets since the start of the protest movement in March, Syria’s leaders have always blamed the unrest on armed groups they say are terrorising the country, thus justifying the military’s deployment. The opposition has responded by repeatedly calling for their movement to stay peaceful at all costs.
But for the past few days, pro-government media outlets – both official television stations and YouTube channels – are out to prove, via amateur videos, that protesters (whom they call “terrorists”) are armed and shooting at security forces. Activists quickly reacted by creating Facebook pages calling on fellow protesters to keep their methods peaceful.
According to the opposition, at least 134 people have been killed since Sunday, when Syria’s army launched its attack on the city of Hama. The international community has reacted with horror to what many countries called a “massacre” by the Syrian army. For the first time since the beginning of the unrest in Syria, the UN Security Council on Wednesday condemned Damascus’ "widespread violations of human rights."
According to Avaaz, a human rights organization based in the United States, 1,790 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the protests in March. Meanwhile, Syrian authorities have counted 1,300 “martyrs of the nation” among their security forces.
Two Syrian anti-government activists tell us what they think of these videos.
This footage broadcast on Syrian television purports to show Syrian protesters bearing arms. Video published on Youtube.
“Why should the rebels in Libya be allowed to defend themselves, and not us?”
Ali (not his real name) lives in Homs.
Armed protesters aren’t coming from the cities, where only the regime’s militiamen are in possession of firearms. They come from villages, where people own hunting rifles and handguns. They have come to believe that protesters can’t defend themselves against the regime’s violent ways. And so they’ve decided to organise their own defence.
Only in a few cities, like Homs or Hama, where the repression has been particularly violent, has anyone taken up arms. However this illustrates just how fed up the population is. For nearly five months now the Syrian people have been massacred, and no one cares. [The slogan of Friday’s protest was directed at the international community: “Your silence is killing us.”]
Some Syrian protesters are worried that those taking up arms, which remain a small minority of people, will discredit their cause in the eyes of the international community. But when you see how little support we’ve received, I just don’t think protesters out in the streets are too worried about what the international community may think. Of course, I am worried that if more people were to take up arms, this could result in a civil war. But why are rebels in Libya allowed to defend themselves, and not us?”
“If protesters really had weapons, there would have been huge losses in the ranks of the army and the security forces”
Abdullah Abadiz (not his real name) is an activist living in Deraa.
“The few videos that accuse protesters of carrying weapons were broadcast by Syrian television stations and published online by supporters of Bashar Al-Assad, which makes me very sceptical as to the videos’ authenticity. If protesters really had weapons, there would have been huge losses in the ranks of the army and the security forces; since military service is mandatory in Syria, everyone knows how to use a firearm.
I have never seen any armed protesters in the streets of Deraa. Quite the opposite. During each protest, protesters yell “Peaceful! Peaceful!” to clearly differentiate themselves from the security forces, who react by shooting at them. If these videos turn out to be authentic, then they portray isolated cases which in no way reflect the spirit of our revolution.”
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira.