Commonly known as ‘Abu Jafar Al-Homsi’, Badawi M'gharbal is a Syrian activist who has reported events on the ground since the start of the Syrian uprising. He has kept Arab satellite television stations updated about protests and atrocities in areas including in the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs. He documented events through his mobile phone and camera and much of his footage made it way to several of the region’s television stations.
The following interview, by the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, shines a light on the courageous role that Al-Homsi and other activists played in spite of the Syrian regime’s refusal to allow access to international media to cover events.
DCMF: When and how did you start your work as a media activist in the revolution?
Al-Homsi: I first participated in peaceful protests along with a group of young people from Homs when the revolution erupted on March 15, 2011. After that, we followed the lead of activists in Tunisia and Egypt and started thinking about how to use the internet to report on the popular uprising for satellite television. I was among the first activists who used mobile phones to convey the truth of what was going on to the world. Although we started taking shots with mobiles with simple specifications, we were able later to use more advanced mobile phones and cameras before we finally began using satellite internet equipment.
I didn’t have any contact with the media before the revolution. Yet, like other activists, developments on the ground forced me to tap into this very important communication tool and counter the regime’s policy to impose a blackout on the country by targetting activists.
In addition to filming and uploading videos on YouTube, I was one of the first Syrian activists who featured in Arab broadcasts to comment on events, especially on treatment of activists during Friday protests. I also went online to comment via Skype on the developments on the ground, an act which exposed me to more danger.
I also engaged with media through other forms. For example, I prepared tissue and leather banners which demonstrators raised in protests, accompanied western media delegations who wanted to go to Homs and participated in setting up media offices in a number of areas and neighborhoods.
Did satellite television invite you and your colleagues to their programmes, or did you take the initiative yourself?
We asked them because we wanted to expose the lies of the regime, which claimed that we were fake and that we were not speaking from inside the country. For the first five months of the revolution, the regime insisted that we were speaking to televisions from their own studios (abroad). Our appearance from inside Syria dealt a heavy blow to the regime and its propaganda machine.
Tell us about the problems that you and your colleague face…
Our main problem has to with the fact that we are being targetted by the regime, which uses its snipers, security forces and ‘Shabiha’ (state-sponsored militia) to monitor protests and target any one filming either by mobile phone or camera. The regime also targets all activists who chant slogans in protests, recognising them through videos uploaded online or ran on television. It also targets activists and media spokespeople who feature on satellite television.
Our problems are compounded by the communication challenges we face in our work. These include temporarily cutting off telephone lines and internet connections, forcing us to take our videos to Lebanon to upload them. To overcome this, we acquired satellite internet equipment, with the risk of having our offices detected by the regime through the signals of our satellite dishes. The regime, on several occasions, shelled our offices which we used along with foreign journalists as a place of stay.
The regime also banned selling cameras and spray paint which activists use to write freedom slogans.
What are the most dangerous situations that you have been through or to which you were a witness?
I was shot twice while filming, the first shot hit my foot when the army opened fire on me and the second shot was when a member of ‘Shabiha’ stabbed me in my forehead in the presence of Arab league monitors.
I will never forget when my camera was pierced by a bullet. I still keep this camera and entertain hopes that when the regime collapses, it will have its place in the national museum because it bears witness to its fear of the truth and exposure of its crimes.
I also have to say that the number of times I was targeted while filming cost me 15 cameras and mobile phones. Some were destroyed and some confiscated from me by force.
Because of my activism my father was injured and our house destroyed when it was shelled by the army.
You were one of the journalists attacked in Baba Amr amid the killing of French photographer Rémi Ochlik and American journalist Marie Colvin. Can you tell us about how they were killed?
The regime was embarrassed when teams of western journalists succeeded in entering Homs, broadcast their objective reports and condemned and exposed the violation of people's right to protest and peaceful expression of opinion. So it set out targetting our media offices, which were likely to host foreign journalists, because the regime was aware that we helped them do their work and be informed about developments on the ground.