'There is no media in Syria at all'


GETTING ACROSS the Syrian-Lebanese border is not always easy, in either direction.

A man wearing a leather jacket is looking out of the window. Like many others, he has adopted a nom de guerre – Abo Galal in his case. He’s afraid of difficulties for his family if the authorities in Damascus know what he does.

Galal is a former Syrian government employee who had finally had enough. He felt the horrendous things happening in the country had to be shown to the rest of the world.

There was a problem, however, because Syria does not have a free press. Neither does it allow foreign press unfettered access to the country. Even getting information out of the country is difficult. Syria had certain internet sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Wikipedia Arabic blocked since 2008. The law requires internet cafes to record all comments in the online chatrooms.

There had to be a way to go around this, Galal thought.

“I smuggled reporters to Syria,” he told me.

In a way, Galal ended up being sad part of history. Some months ago he smuggled two reporters to Homs. In the end of February these two, American reporter Marie Colvin, working for a British newspaper, the Sunday Times, and French photographer Remi Ochlik, were killed by Syrian army shells. They were trying to flee an unofficial media building in Homs, believed to have been identified by the army because of the journalists’ use of satellite phones.

The smuggling of the reporters ended soon.

“Government troops heard that reporters were being smuggled to Syria through certain villages by the border,” said Galal. “The destroying started. Syrian rebel army started falling down. The government troops’ bombs and missiles destroyed most of those border villages to the ground.”

As the mass murder continued, Galal ended up escaping with his family from his home country.

“We walked [into Lebanon] overnight across the border, 12km .”

The violence in Syria during the war has been enormous.

“I have lost 18 young men close to me in the war. My wife and my son’s wife were arrested randomly. An old retired army officer in the family managed to talk them out of the jail,” he says.

Galal explains how the Assad regime stages show of support.

“If the government organised a support demonstration at the Freedom Square in the city centre of Homs, we were forced to the place by threatening . . . Once I refused to go and I was told I’d lose my salary.

“There is no media in Syria at all. Everything shown in the Syrian channels are lies. They alter the facts. We cross an X over what is shown to forget it. We don’t care.”