Syrian Bloggers Campaign to Free Fellow Blogger Tariq Biasi

It all started when one did: Ahmad published several entries concerning the detention of Tariq, the jailed Syrian blogger, but it is only when his blog was added on the SYPlanet aggregator that I had the chance to be aware of Tariq's situation. I reacted by contacting all the bloggers who reported on Tariq's detention and asked for their help in organizing a campaign to help secure Tariq's release. And here we are; Ahmad purchased and designed the websites, Arwa and Omar contacted human rights organizations and news agencies, Okbah is following up Tariq's news with a lawyer, Omar created a group on Facebook. I also contributed by updating the websites and creating an online petition demanding Tariq's release.

As it stands, we're just five. We are five Syrian bloggers writing from our censored Syria.

You can find our Free Tariq campaign by clicking here for an English version, and here for the Arabic.

Our Statement:

Our mission is supposedly guaranteed in the introduction of Syria's Constitution: “The freedom of the country is only protected by free citizens.”

Article 28 in the constitution dictates that: “Every accused person is innocent until he is convicted by a final court judgment.”

Tariq’s online speech does not constitute a violation of the law. In fact, he actually acted on the basis of freedom, which as stated earlier, is guaranteed by the Constitution via Article 38, which states: “Every citizen has the right to express his opinion freely and openly, orally and written and in all other means of expression. He also has the right to contribute in the control process and in the constructive criticism to ensure the safety of national reconstruction.”

Feel free to read the full statement.

Please take a minute and consider signing our petition.

You can also help us spread the word by joining our group on Facebook.

If you wish to post a banner of solidarity on your blog or website, you may choose from a list of banners here. Insert the image URL within the code here and you'll get a badge of the banner you've chosen. Please contact us for any questions, or if you have a banner of your own to contribute.

Why Support Us?

Some of the arguments made unfortunately undermine the effectiveness of the likes of this campaign, assuming that there is one goal, which is simply and strictly to literally “free” the imprisoned blogger or person. This campaign however goes way beyond such claims and aims to protect the very principles of freedom and human rights. To answer and refute some of these arguments, the Free Tariq Coalition has interviewed the Syrian human rights activist and lawyer Razan Zeituna and asked her a couple of questions regarding the validity of such campaigns:

Free Tariq: Are these campaigns important? If so, in what sense?

رزان زيتونة: ‫هذه الحملات مهمة جدا، أهم ما فيها أنها أخرجت قضايا حريات الرأي والتعبير من ثنائية العلاقة ما بين المنظمات الحقوقية والسلطة، لتجعل منها قضية رأي عام، تهم دوائر أوسع من الأفراد والجماعات‬
‫وهي إلى جانب الاهتمام ب والدفاع عن أفراد بعينهم تعرضوا لانتهاكات في حقوقهم وحرياتهم الأساسية، تنشر الوعي بقضية الحريات والانتهاكات‬.
‫هذا من جانب، من جانب آخر، مضى زمن طويل في منطقتنا العربية، حيث كانت مختلف الانتهاكات تمارس بحق الأفراد بدون أي اهتمام إعلامي وحقوقي فعلي، هذا الأمر بدأ يتغير الآن، هذه الحملات إلى جانب ما تمارسه من ضغط معنوي على السلطات الحاكمة، تعطي الأفراد المنتهكة حقوقهم جزءا مما يستحقونه، باعتبارهم أفراد لهم أسماء وأحلام …الخ، أي أنها تؤنسن هذه القضايا‬ ‫وتنقلها من إطار العموميات والمجرد إلى إطار الشخصي‬.

Razan Zeituna: These campaigns are very important, mostly for unleashing the freedom of speech causes from the dual relationship between the regime and human rights organizations, to make it a public affair that would interest wider circles of people and groups. And while these campaigns lobby for and defend people whose basic rights and freedoms are abused, they also raise awareness on the cause for free speech.
Furthermore, it has been a long time in the Arab region since human rights abuses been taken place without effectual attention from media and human rights agencies. This is changing now; these kinds of campaigns and as they put symbolic pressure on the government, it gives the individuals whose rights are invaded, part of what they deserve, and treat them as people with names and dreams…these kinds of campaigns personify and humanize the abstract causes and transfer them from generalizations frames into personal frames.

Free Tariq: What about Tariq himself, how would this campaign be beneficial to him?

رزان زيتونة: هي حق له قبل أن تكون مفيدة له أم لا،‬ ‫في مثل أنظمتنا، الحكومات لا تكترث كثيرا بالضغوط من هذا النوع، هذا لا يعني أبدا أن لا تمارس مثل هذه الضغوط‬.

Razan Zeituna: It's his right, before it can be beneficial to him or not. With governments like ours, these kinds of pressures don’t affect the regimes much; this is no reason why we should not practice these pressures in the first place.

And Esra'a Al Shafei, director of the Free Kareem campaign notes that the aim of activism is “to change,” and stresses on the movement of change:

Activists generally have a passion towards a set of issues that they feel need to be changed, and they are inspired enough to be part of the movement that changes these things, either partly or entirely (if they are part of a movement that is big and influential enough, but most activism today comes in very small doses.)

In other words, campaigns like this one might qualify as a form of “activism” (though I like to refer to it as “volunteerism”), help serve a major role in communities that suffer from decades of dictatorship like that of Syria. The Free Tariq Coalition can advocate and promote national ownership, and harnessing citizen participation within the process of the country's development that has been exclusively up to the Syrian authorities and to Syrian opposition(s). Campaigning, volunteering, or being active is not only about raising awareness about Tariq's case or about freedom of speech, but also about the necessity for all Syrian people and youth to contribute and to participate instead of comforting to the paralyzed community state the Syrian regime managed to build for decades by force.

Syrian Bloggers Under Threat

Tariq Biasi is not the only and the first Syrian blogger who is currently in prison, long before I have started this blog about a year ago, a Syrian blogger named Tariq Gorani was detained on 19-2-2006 for a year and four months before being charged with a seven years sentence verdict on 17-6-2007 for “endangering Syria's security”. His blog's name was Aldomari. “Aldomari” is originally taken from the first and the last independent Syrian newspaper that addressed and investigated the corruption of the Syrian authorities for a few months before it was shut down by the regime. (Aldomari was a revolutionary newspaper and though its price was five times the official newspapers’, its editions were always sold out.)

I could not read any post by the blogger Aldomari for the Syrian authorities have hacked his blog and deleted all his posts’ archive, all I know is that he blogs in Arabic and his posts were seethingly sarcastic. Aldomari blog was the first Syrian blog to be blocked by the Syrian authorities as reported by the Damascene blog.

Tariq Gorani (1985) was not detained only for his blogging activity, he was mainly detained and imprisoned along with his seven friends for establishing a “Democratic Syrian Youth Activity.” Because of their online organized activism, they faced harsh and serious verdicts with seven and five years sentences.

A campaign has been launched to support the young men can be found here.

‫‬

So basically whoever initiates to express and voice his/her opinions in an organized manner, they are detained and imprisoned for years. Which explains the decreasing amount of Syrian insiders who care about Syrian public affairs.

Tariq Biasi is detained for an online comment criticizing the government, but Tariq Gorani was detained and faced serious charges and is spending seven years in prison not for expressing his views as much as for expressing them within an establishment and an organized body. Hence Syrian insiders prefer to work independently, mostly anonymously and not in groups.

Another example of harassment by the authority towards Syrian bloggers is when the Syrian intelligence kidnapped Syrian bloggeress Rukana Hammour. She is very vocal about the authorities and judicial system's corruption in Syria, and was thus threatened by the intelligence forces to withdraw her nomination to the Syrian parliament.

How You Can Help:

1. Write about Tariq or freedom of online speech on your site or blog.
2. Link to our campaign.
3. Email your friends about us and ask them to sign the petition.
4. Contact NGOs and media agencies in your circles.
5. Email us campaign-related feedbacks and suggestions.

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