They ring the doorbell – and run away. But these masked men are no pranksters. In cities throughout Syria, they furtively go from door to door to distribute their underground, anti-government newspaper.
Syrian Hurriyat – “hurriyat” means “freedoms” in Arabic – has just published its fourteenth issue. The 12-page newspaper has been published weekly since late August. It was founded by young Syrians living in exile in Europe, but also features writing from a dozen activists inside Syria. News reports, editorials, cartoons – it’s got all the standard fixtures of a weekly newspaper.
Recently it’s even gone online and some of the articles are translated into English. However, the priority is the newspaper itself, say its editors, because many in Syria do not have access to an Internet connection.
Activists film themselves distributing newspapers. According to Syrian Hurriyat's editor, this scene took place in Damascus. Video posted to YouTube by Syrian Hurriyat.
“We want to motivate protesters and keep their spirits high … but also give all Syrians an alternative to the mainstream, state-controlled media”
Kareem Lailah is Syrian Hurriyat’s editor-in-chief. He lives in exile in Europe.
Activists inside Syria distribute our newspaper at random. They knock on all doors, in all sorts of neighbourhoods, not just those where there is a lot of anti-government resentment. In fact, they try to target more pro-government areas when they can.We want to motivate protesters on the ground and keep their spirits high, but we also want to target Syrians who don’t really know what to think about the revolution and give them an alternative to the mainstream, state-controlled media.We hope that even those who find the newspaper outside their door and don’t want to read it might still catch a glimpse of a cool cartoon, one that tells a message we want to deliver.We know it’s risky. But protesters risk their lives every day, and they keep on protesting. Personally, I get lots of threatening messages; activists on the ground once got followed by security forces after delivering the newspapers, but no one has been hurt so far.We want to keep growing and reach a larger audience, but we don’t want to lose a single activist to do that. If one of them is caught, he will definitely be killed, because the regime fears thoughts even more than actions. They see those who protest as dangerous, but they see those who think and plan and spread the truth as much more dangerous.Printing the newspaper isn’t easy. We print it inside Syria, in people’s homes, and sometimes manage to smuggle in some of the copies we’ve printed abroad.We mainly distribute in Damascus and Homs, although less in Homs lately because of the security crackdown there. We will soon be distributing in Aleppo, too. Every week, we distribute a couple of thousand copies – as much as our guys are able to print and distribute, really.We have no sponsors. We pay for printing from our own pockets. We have decided not to seek help from any exile groups so as to maintain our editorial independence. We’re all young activists, between 20 and 35, and we just want freedom and a new start for Syria - we can’t be sure what other generations and other groups might want.Our message is simple: freedom is expensive but worth the price.We have gotten fantastic reactions. I read one tweet from someone in Damascus who wrote something like: ‘It’s beautiful to wake up and find Hurriyat on your door… I can smell freedom already.’ That keeps us going.Our newspaper will keep publishing as long as needs be, and, I hope, start publishing freely once the regime is toppled. There will still be lots to write about then – building a new, better society is much harder than toppling a dictator."
Activists filmed the newspapers, printed and ready for distribution. Video posted to YouTube by Syrian Hurriyat.