With social media and satellite TV, Syrian activists fight regime from Sweden

For 14 years, Faraj Bayrakdar wrote poetry on cigarette paper that was smuggled out of his prison cell in Syria. Now exiled in Sweden, the 60-year-old poet has turned to social media to help protesters in his homeland document the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown.

On his Facebook page, Bayrakdar posts video clips sent to him by protesters who are afraid they will be harassed by authorities if they upload the material in Syria.

“I have contacts, a good network of friends inside in Syria and in Europe, and I have a good relationship with international media,” Bayrakdar told The Associated Press on Sunday. “When I get some photos, some details, names (of) the people who were killed or arrested I can spread them.”

Protests erupted in Syria more than three weeks ago and have been growing steadily, with tens of thousands of people calling for sweeping reforms. President Bashar Assad’s family has kept an iron grip on power for 40 years, in part by crushing dissent.

Assad blames the violence on armed gangs rather than reform-seekers and has vowed to crack down on further unrest.

With state TV controlled by the regime, people who want to get a fuller picture of what’s going on around the country must turn to social media, including Bayrakdar’s Facebook page and satellite TV broadcasts from Europe.

One of the opposition-led satellite programs that is reaching Syria is the Kurdish talk show “Ronahi,” recorded in a small studio in Stockholm by Bayrakdar’s friends, journalist Cemal Batun and opposition activist Kamiran Hajo.

The weekly show is produced for London-based satellite channel Barada TV and is targeting the roughly 1.5 million Kurds in Syria.

However, the program which started in November, has caught the attention of the Syrian regime, which has started persecuting family members of guests on the show, Batun said.

“We had a guest, a doctor who works here in Sweden,” he said. “The day after his brother was called in for questioning.”

Bayrakdar, who was jailed in Syria in the 1980s and charged with belonging to an opposition left-wing group, said he thought “modern technology” would eventually help bring the regime down.

He never stopped writing during his 14 years in prison, scribbling his poems on paper used to roll cigarettes, which his daughter smuggled out of the lockup.

Now he makes 10 postings on his Facebook wall a day with new information from Syria, that is immediately shared by his followers to other activists.

“Now our tsunami started, all the dictatorships will fall down,” Bayrakdar said.

Malin Rising

The Associated Press

May 16, 2011

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