In spite of limited resources, members of the media in the Syrian revolution are covering nationwide protests nationwide and reporting on what activists call the ‘the kingdom of silence.’
With only mobile phones and a slow internet connection, activists have succeeded in broadcasting the killing, torture and the shooting of demonstrators.
These journalists, professional or citizen, helped convey the voice of those gathered in the streets of Syria to the world. They later started using sophisticated Thuraya phones and satellite internet which the regime cannot track down, with a speed of more than 4 mega or 12 megabytes.
Overcoming the fear barrier
Media activist Jassem Abdelaziz from Homs says that starting out was difficult. “Everybody was afraid of being pursued, arrested or killed. Such was the fear barrier that affected us all. Back then, death was not what mattered but rather how to keep activists away from sniper fire and security incursions, because if an activist was lost it was very difficult to replace him with one who was still being trained.
"Security intelligence infiltrated during the first months of the revolution through our Skype programmes and Facebook pages and arrested a number of media activists. But this has changed a great deal as media activism developed, leading activists to use code names and messages and therefore prevent further infiltration."
Documenting the truth
Basel is the code name of a 20 year old member of the Neighborhood and Revolution Council Association in Homs. He documented a series of violations against activists and was known for his ability to quickly climb over buildings, wait for a long time until the protest was near, and then film it.
Basel usually takes important shots of the way police handle protesters.
"During the early months of the revolution we didn't reveal the identity of photographers who were killed or arrested by the intelligence, fearing about the safety of their families and loved-ones," says Basel. "Many media activists were arrested at the beginning of the revolution or randomly killed by snipers who did not know them and their value to us. Sometimes, however, they are killed with premeditation. With time, more and more activists overcame the fear barrier and started to feature in satellite televisions to talk about the revolution like Abu Jafar al-Homsi, Omar Tillawi and Bilal Al-Himsi. Some other activists did not disclose their identities; these are those who pass through military checkpoints separating the city of Homs in two halves. Once an identity of an activist becomes known, he will then be kept in certain specific areas or work secretly and with a high risk," adds Basel
Arrest and torture
Twenty-three year old Salem Mohamed, a media activist from Homs, says that there are different ways of arrests, pursuits and torture in the dark cells of the regime's prisons.
He told the Doha Centre for Media Freedom that he spent four months moving between Homs-based air intelligence and its political security branch and that he was subjected to all kinds of torture.
"I was arrested in a military incursion in a neighborhood in Homs. My name was on a list of people who were pursued for arrest and I believed it was the result of a tip-off by one of the agents who infiltrated the neighborhood where I used to film protests and prepare flags and banners.
"They handcuffed and blindfolded me and took me away from home. I remember that they chose to carry me in a tank because the bus which was supposed to transport me was full of people. I was kicked, beaten and insulted all the way to the air intelligence headquarters where I started a long journey with torture, a journey that is familiar to many, and it included beating sensitive parts of my body like my head."
Torture by ‘Balanco’
Mohammed says that ‘Blanco’ is the worst kind of torture.
“It means tying the person's hands to a very low cell roof and keeping him hanging, trying to stand on his toes. This means that half of the person's body weight is lifted by his hands and the other half by his toes.
"I was expecting all the kinds of torture that I was subjected to except the ‘Blanco’. Security elements and Shebiha treated me like a spectacle for entertainment, torturing me night and day and taking turns, trying all sorts of ways imaginable to hurt me.
"I was also tortured during investigation and accused of treason and of being a sell-out who received funding from abroad just because I used my camera to film peaceful protests.
“After days of detention in air intelligence premises, I was transferred to political security branch where I was also tortured. Two weeks before my release, I was transferred to the central prison which was to me like a five-star hotel compared to the previous detention facilities. After that I was referred to the military prosecution which in its turn referred me to a military court for trial. Then, I was freed temporarily pending my trial. I fled and I'm still wanted by security authorities."
Testimonies put forward by Jasem, Basel and Salem echo others documented by international rights groups.
In spite of the huge challenges they face, Syrian media activists were able, especially in Homs, Idlib and Dara, which are the most dangerous, to bring bombshells in what is called ‘revolution media’ relying on humble resources at a time when the IT revolution is in full gear.
To follow all of our coverage on Syria's media revolution, visit our Special Report.