After being arrested by the Air Force Security, members of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression were sent last month to the Military Court on charges of possession of banned publications and tools, and of inciting protests. Thana' Zetani, Mayada Khaleel, Hanadi Zahloot, Bassam al-Ahmad, Ayham Ghazool, Joan Ferso, Razan Ghazzwi, Yara Badr and head of the SCM Mazen Darwish were interrogated before the Military Public Prosecutor, who decided to arrest them. Previously, members Zetani, Khalil, Zahlout, Ghazzawi and Badr had been arrested and released but were ordered to check in daily with the Air Force Security branch in Mazzeh.
In Homs, Yara Shammas, daughter of rights lawyer Michel Shammas, was charged with spreading false statements and belonging to a secret association, among other charges, but was released last week.
The regime attacked protesters at Aleppo University last week, killing at least four students, all unarmed. Also last week, the two sons of opposition figure and writer Fayez Sarah were also arrested, and no one so far knows their whereabouts.
Rima Dali, the woman who held a banner that said “Stop the Killing, We Want to Build a Nation for All the Syrians” in front of the parliament, was considered such a threat that she and whoever followed her lead were arrested.
These are just some examples of arrests of non-armed peaceful protesters and liberal civil activists who work behind the scenes to maintain the peaceful face of the revolution.
If UN Peace Envoy Kofi Annan’s plan were going to work, it would have encouraged peaceful protesters and decreased the levels of violence against them. So far, this has not happened, and some justify the plan’s ineffectiveness by noting that not all of the 300 observers have arrived in Syria. Of course, one should ask why they’re not there yet. One of the answers could be that the regime still needs time to put down anyone who could play a role in boosting the non-violent face of the opposition.
The regime wants a war between the Sunni Islamists and the minorities, mainly the Alawites. Bashar al-Assad has done everything possible, from killing children to raping women, to play on the sectarian dimension and incite violence, while at the same time silencing all voices that call for a peaceful, secular and liberal revolution in Syria. The regime has been brutally killing and torturing people in order to trigger their basic survival instincts. Assad wanted people to hold arms, and many did.
Today, the Syrians are going to polls to elect what the regime called a multi-party parliament, an action that is tailored to show the international community that Assad is serious about reform. Of course no one is buying his reform initiatives, but with the increase of violence and sectarian tension, heavily promoted by the regime, dialogue with the regime and consensus could become the only option.
The regime knows that very well, and that’s why it wants to silence all those who can confront its strategy. The worst part is that the international community and Annan’s observers seem to be looking at the Syrians as two armed groups in conflict, ignoring the government’s violent campaign on peaceful dissidents. This is the worst that could happen to the revolution.
This strategy also applies in Lebanon. Pro-Syrian security and military institutions have been intimidating and arresting activists who are working to help the nonviolent movement in Syria.
Pro-uprising Lebanese Islamists, mostly residing in Tripoli, feel much safer organizing themselves and the community around them. When Syrian activists in Lebanon receive a threat, all they have to do is go to Tripoli and stay at a “safe house” provided by Islamists groups, and they will not be touched. Many believe this is more efficient and safer than going to a Western embassy and asking for help.
This means that the regime’s plan is working in Lebanon too, and this “armed conflict” could move to Lebanon at any point in time.
The peaceful face of the revolution is in real danger because the international community fell into the regime’s trap. These activists are alone, and no one is paying attention to them because they work silently on the ground and have no political ambitions. They organize peaceful protests, they document human rights violations, and they are there for anyone who needs help. They are present at the core of the revolution, trying to help it keep its human and peaceful face.
Assad’s regime will not stop. It might seem that it has changed its strategy of bombing cities with heavy arms, thereby killing fewer people, while holding “democratic” elections. The observers will say that despite some violations, the Annan plan is “on the right track,” but in fact, the real plan that no one is monitoring is happening behind the closed doors of detention centers.
Assad will not stop because he does not want a nation for all Syrians. But why are we letting him succeed?
Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW Lebanon