Thursday, 9 June 2011

The case of the missing Syrian blogger

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This morning we passed on a petition relating to Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, the American-Syrian blogger known as Gay Girl in Damascus, who has been reported missing and is thought to be in he hands of the Syrian security forces. Since the news broke, however, doubt has been cast on many details of the story. No records of a person of that name can be found in the US, no one who knows her has surfaced to confirm her identity, and some have even suggested that the whole blog was a hoax, perhaps written by someone not even living in Syria, or even an example of "fictional blogging". Some of the accusations that the blog is fake have been made by Syrians who doubt the veracity of things that have been said on the blog.

All very rum. We are not Syrian experts here, so to untangle some of this we contacted someone who is, a senior employee at a reputable Middle East analysis outfit (can't give the name, you'll have to trust me). He is a particular expert on Syria (p.s. he's not a spy). He said:

- He had been aware of the blog for several months (since before the uprisings in Syria). He had no reason to question its authenticity then. It wasn't a political blog, more about everyday life and culture.
- The blog did stridently stop recently, and a message was posted (purporting to be from her cousin) saying Amina had been kidnapped
- It's common for bloggers and activists in Syria to hide behind pseudonyms
- If Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari is indeed a pseudonym there is no point in petitioning the Syrian government to release her, as they can just say they have no one of that name
- It is not inconceivable that this questioning of her identity is part of a disinformation campaign by the Syrian government, who have a track record of this kind of thing.

So where does that leave us? It does seem that until we get more information regarding the identity of the blogger there is no point in signing a petition or trying to pressure the Syrian government. But, we need to keep an eye on the unfolding story because if we all decide (as some seem to have already) that in fact the whole things is some sort of hoax, but there really is an actual person in custody in Syria, then she is the big loser, and we will have been conned. Personally I don't mind so much being conned by a creative writer, however deluded they may be. But I do mind being conned by a government.

Stay tuned, and please add any other information in the comments.

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