Security Crack-Down Not Enough to Stop Syria’s Cyber Activists

Danny Titolo is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

When a land is riddled with violence and government oppression, the more common reaction from its citizens is to counter the violence with guns and barbed wire. This is not the case in Syria where its citizens have turned to cyber activism and social media as their weapons of choice.

The citizens of Syria are utilizing social media to reveal amateur footage depicting the violence they are forced to endure at the hands of their own government. In effect, Syrians have begun a revolution against their government and President Bashar Al-Assad. The Al-Assad family has ruled over Syria for more than four decades. Citizens are demanding political reforms, reinstatement of civil rights, and an end to the state of emergency which has been in place since 1963.

Malath Aumran, a 27-year-old cyber activist is the unofficial leader of this cyber revolution. Aumran has led this movement by gathering images of the violence in Syria and revealing them to the world. The distribution of these images is made possible by Aumran’s cult following on Facebook and Twitter. These social media networks have given Aumran the ability to inspire others to do the same and protest for political change in Syria. Unfortunately, these anti-government protests have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent people.

Aumran’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by the Syrian government and authorities. He is the country’s most wanted cyber activist.  Hiding in his apartment in Beirut was not enough to ensure his safety, so he has been forced into exile. The most intriguing part of this story is that Malath Aumran does not even exist. He is the creation of 28-year-old Rami Nakhle; a Syrian now living in Lebanon. Aumran is Nakhle’s alter ego.

After suspecting Nakhle’s cyber activism, the authorities immediately banned him from travelling. Knowing his arrest would soon follow, Nakhle began hiding in Beirut, but would still utilize Aumran to post images and videos of anti-government protests that depict the manner by which the Syrian authorities violently deal with protesters.

Nakhle is now hiding in a safe house in Lebanon where he acts as a relay point for Syrian activists to get their messages out of the country. Nakhle receives countless videos, pictures, and eye witness accounts from other cyber activists every hour, which are posted on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. This is done with the intent to reveal the truth of what is happening in Syria. Technology is what makes this all possible. Without the Internet, a laptop, and digital cameras, it can be argued that the Nakhle-lead revolution would end before it begins.

Many of Nakhle’s friends have been arrested since the cyber activism revolution began. The authorities have carried out these arrests with the hopes of getting to Nakhle or of deterring him from continuing this anti-government movement. As a result, Nakhle says he has nothing left to lose at this point and that his role now is to reveal the truth to media networks such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. Unfortunately, this was how Nakhle’s cover was blown. His voice was recognized by Syrian security forces while being interviewed on an Arabic news network. His life and those of his family have since been threatened by the authorities.

Nakhle had no choice but to go public and vowed that nothing will stop him from reporting on what is happening in Syria. With the goal of democracy in mind, Nakhle knows this is not possible until the Bashar Al-Assad government is overthrown, and even then there will be much work left to do in writing the new history of Syria. In an interview with news correspondent, Owen Bennet-Jones, Nakhle stated that the efforts made by Syrian activists are making all the difference in the fight for democracy.