Syria: The capture of ‘the eyes of Bab Amr’

William Hague joins calls for the release of prominent Syrian journalist; friends fear Ali Mahmoud Othman is being severely tortured…

 

Homs, Syria © FreedomHouse

 

Video activist Ali Mahmoud Othman, head of the media office of Bab Amr, has been siezed by the Syrian goverment. Friends and colleagues believe he is being subjected to severe torture.  His detention puts all activists from the office at risk and is a huge blow to citizen journalism in the country.

Othman, who was originally a vegetable vendor, has been documenting unrest in Homs since the beginning of the Syrian revolution. He was instrumental in assisting those covering the conflict from Baba Amr, helping evacuate international journalists from inside the neighborhood. He decided to stay in Baba Amr even after the Syrian army re-captured the neighborhood after bombing it for three months.

According to Mónica G.Prieto, correspondent for Spanish news outlet Periodismo Humano, “he did not want to leave as long as a single person stayed in the neighborhood, he refused all offers to leave”.

The following video shows Othman, fondly known as the “eyes of Baba Amr,” telling the world about the suffering of the population of Baba Amr. He talks to the camera without concerns for his identity. He believed his message would be more reliable and reach a wider audience if he showed his face:

Activists have created a Facebook page to share news on his whereabouts and demand his release. And the Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Syrian authorities to immediately release Othman and all journalists detained for their work:

Syrian citizen journalists have been documenting the unrest at extraordinary risk to their lives. The regime must end its campaign to intimidate them and silence reporting of its brutal crackdown.

His detention has captured attention of mainstream media and political representatives from different countries. The UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague called on his release:

I call on the Syrian authorities to release Mr Othman and other political prisoners immediately. The Syrian regime will be held responsible for Mr Othman’s safety and his treatment and I will raise his case in Istanbul at the Friends of Syria meeting.

United States Senator John McCain tweeted:

Got reports that Syrian journalist Ali Mahmoud Othman is held & tortured by Assad forces- world must call 4 his release

Journalist Randa Habib brought attention to the danger faced by Othman and activist Noura Aljiwazi, who disappeared in Damascus on the same day:

Figures of #Syria resistance Ali Mahmoud Othman & activist Noura Al-jizawi, arrested, their live in danger: Reporters Without Borders (RFS)

Six days after Othman’s arrest, friends posted the following message on Facebook:

It is the 6th night without Ali’s voice or warm words.  It is the 6th night Ali sleeps hands tied, exhausted from torture. It is the 6th night and Ali’s name has reached as far as Australia, people demanding for his freedom. It is the 6th night, the revolution has no Ali. One of the heroes of Baba Amr, now a hero of the revolution. His good deeds repeated daily by those he saved from injuries, journalists, friends and family. Freedom for Ali Othman, one of the bravest men to exist.

Written by Leila Nachawati Rego
This article originally appeared at Global Voices Online