Ladies and gentlemen: Let me begin by thanking the organizers of the Oslo Freedom Forum as well as the Norwegian people — on behalf of all Syrians and on my behalf — for inviting me to speak at this distinguished forum. It is an honour to speak at the same podium as some of the bravest and most dedicated people. I invite you now to imagine with me a new Syria: a strong democratic country where the universal human rights of all Syrians are respected. Imagine a country where Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Kurds and others live in freedom and dignity. Imagine a Syria where people exercise their rights to citizenship and civil society participates in national development. Imagine a new Syria, where multiple political parties exist and elections are held on a regular basis. Imagine Syria as an engaged member of the international community, committed to international agreements and abiding by the rule of law. This is the Syria that Syrians want. Syrians want free press, freedom of expression, freedom to dissent, they want transparent governance, open markets, an end to corruption and cronyism. Syrians want equal opportunity for all, better living conditions, Syrians want equal opportunity not only for the majority, but also all minorities better health and education services, fairer economic opportunities, and above all dignity and justice.
0:02:02.000,0:02:08.000Syrians want what they have been denied for so long under Assad the father,
0:02:09.000,0:02:12.000and in the past 11 years, by Assad the son. The current uprising began peacefully in March of last year when a handful of school children scribbled anti-government graffiti on a wall in the south-western city of Deraa. The children were jailed and released after a month, but without their fingernails,
— they were ripped off as a clear message to others. Outraged, the citizens of Deraa took to the streets to protest this act of horror— which in turn led to more demonstrations, until the whole country was alight with discontent.
The Deraa event – added to years of oppression and failed promises — was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Since the beginning of the uprising 14 months ago, the number of innocent people who have been killed, injured or detained is daunting. Over 14,000 people have lost their lives, among them are 1000 children and another 1000 women. There are over 65,000 people missing and 212,000 imprisoned. Every family in Syria has been affected. The amount of grief and sorrow is unfathomable. The country is anguished with missing husbands, raped daughters, humiliated elders and dead sons. The Syrian people are facing an evil that is as reprehensible as it is familiar. A small group exploiting an entire society for their own benefit with their authority questioned, they unleash all the weapons of the state. From secret prisons to propaganda to artillery, against the people. And from the first Deraa moment, the government has attempted to institute an information blackout, banning all media presence and kicking out all international reporters. The regime’s narrative, told by Syrian state television, as well as private channels funded by the state, government radio and newspapers, is that foreign armed gangs, thugs, terrorists and Islamic fundamentalists are shooting indiscriminately at civilians and security forces in order to weaken Syria, institute chaos and provoke a civil war. Yet the truth about the Syrian uprising is being told and the story is being heard– throughout the world, thanks to the Internet, the courage and innovative and creative ways Syrians are using it to tell the story. The narrative is consistent and unfailing. It repeats itself over and over again: Syrian security forces open fire on civilians, leaving scores of people dead and wounded. The wounded are whisked to hospital only to be swiftly kidnapped to security headquarters for interrogation, then killed. Sometimes their bodies are returned to their families with evidence of torture and maiming. Sometimes, they disappear for good. The neighbourhood is besieged. It is shelled—often completely destroyed. Homes are burnt. Young men and women are dragged out of their homes and detained. They are beaten and sometimes killed. No one knows where they are held. Days and weeks go by without news about them. This scenario repeats itself over and over again in every city, town and village
and in all parts of the country. Syrian journalists have been given a very clear message about keeping silent.
0:06:29.000,0:06:33.000Many have been beaten, detained, threatened and killed. In August 2011, Syrian security forces attacked Syria’s best-known political cartoonist, Ali Farzat, a noted critic of the regime. Ferzat, who is 60, was hospitalized with fractures and trauma to his head. His fingers were smashed. Many Syrian journalists have suffered similar and worse fates. In spite of all efforts to censor and control information, with no international journalists or humanitarian organizations allowed into the country to unearth the truth and verify the facts— Syrians are working their computers and mobile phones to organize and mobilize protests, share information on the ground and document the uprising by uploading videos, photographs and eyewitness accounts so that people in Syria and abroad are kept informed. Activists are relying on social-media networks to tell the story like Twitter and Facebook— both of these social media networks were little used before the uprising– compared to today, as tens of thousands of Syrians rely on social media networks to tell and hear the story. The Syrian people, who have been denied access to open and free information all their lives have now themselves become journalists in their own right. The Syrian regime has forced every Syrian citizen to become an activist AND an eye-witness journalist. This is the perfect model of citizen journalism in action. What makes citizen reporting so powerful is that the story is not being told by one media outlet, or one journalist, but rather by a multitude of citizens who are recording the event from different angles, perspectives and emotions. Perhaps the single most important way that the Syrian people convey the truth of what is happening in Syria is through the lens of YouTube videos taken by mobile phone cameras and uploaded every single day. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a YouTube clip is worth a thousand times more. And activists have learnt that for these YouTube clips to be credible sources of information, they must be correctly labeled and dated. Currently, hundreds of thousands of such videos can be easily accessed inside and outside Syria. Activists are hoping that one day these videos will be used as evidence to bring the Assad regime to justice. As for Facebook, it has become the main platform to pass key information and post stories online, and people outside and inside Syria follow these diligently. But it is risky business. Carrying a camera or a mobile phone with a camera can be a death sentence: activists who are caught filming, uploading and posting are beaten, tortured and killed. Between December 2011 and February 2012, three Syrian activists from Homs were killed while filming the violence. Their names are Basel al-Sayed, Rami Ahmed al-Sayed, and Mazhar Tayyara and they are not the only ones. But the filming continues! Syrians have marvelously succeeded in documenting all the horrible atrocities and massacres committed by this mafia regime. Surprisingly, the government has not completely banned Facebook for a reason: it uses the internet as a surveillance tool to intimidate Facebook users and use fake Facebook accounts to collect information and take action against those who have become “friends” with the opposition. Those responsible for posting YouTube videos, photo blogs and Facebook or twitter news are networks of young men and women activists who emerged spontaneously— most are based in Syria, but also others who are based elsewhere. They have formed decentralized “Local Coordination Committees” to help the opposition on the ground, organize demonstrations, spread anti-government messages throughout the country and document and share information and news of what is happening in Syria for the world to see. A lot of effort is put into collecting the information, checking its credibility and then providing it to media outlets in a timely manner. Take the example of those activists that have recently launched an Internet radio station at the end of last year called New Start Radio—these young men and women have never received formal training – but efficiently run the radio station using information provided by citizen journalists positioned in hot spots around the country. Recently, Syrian citizen journalists and activists were awarded the 2012 Reporters Without Borders Netizen Prize, in recognition of their struggle to tell the story and live in freedom and dignity. It is also been immensely helpful that some courageous international journalists have risked their lives by illegally entering Syria to report on the events and verify what we are receiving from internal sources. At this moment, I would like to pay tribute to Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik who lost their lives covering the shelling of Homs in Late February and to Anthony Shadeed, who narrated our predicament accurately and with heart. Against all odds, the Syrian opposition—dispersed widely in Syria and abroad-
0:13:04.000,0:13:08.000has worked hard to organize and present a united front, much of this has been facilitated by the use of communications technologies like Skype. In a country denied the practice of politics for decades, organizing the opposition has not been without difficulties, yet we have been successful on a number of fronts— We have established a 300 member council—The SNC– to represent Syrians from all backgrounds— the SNC has now been recognized—internally and abroad– as a leading and legitimate representative of the Syrian people. We now also have a Free Syrian Army composed of defectors who are fighting Assad forces and protecting civilians. And though we have advocated for a peaceful revolt against Assad, we have come to understand that Assad will stop at nothing— forcing us to re-evaluate our earlier stance and coming to the sad realization that we must be able to defend ourselves by all means possible,
including arming ourselves to exercise our rights to self-defence. Syrians are also now calling for immediate and swift action by the international community. The truth is economic sanctions and travel bans have not been enough. Most Syrians will agree that the international community must have a more pro-active role to help stop the bloodshed in Syria. There is a tremendous human cost associated with no action– But the international community needs a plan, a plan that has been long overdue. Unless the plan is well-backed and swiftly enacted, we can anticipate that the regime will continue to violently quell the rebellion, taking one city and one town at a time to try to crush the will of the people. But the brave Syrian people are unlikely now to let the world forget— the youth will continue to provide us with the narrative because they are no longer afraid. The psychological barrier of fear has been broken. No longer will Syrians accept humiliation from the Assad regime. Syrians have freed themselves from the shackles of fear and the old repressive constraints of a state seeking to control the flow of information. It has been a long time coming and the time will come when Syria will exit this darkness into the light— when Syria will see the end of Assad’s tyranny. The question is no longer whether it will happen, but when will it happen. For Assad lost his legitimacy a long time ago. We believe that our cause will succeed sooner than later, but it needs international support, those of you here today can help with your credibility, contacts and networks to spread the truth and bring the conscience of the world to bear. We need the support of each and every one of you—as individuals, as institutions and governments. We then look forward to welcoming you to our country to meet its creative and innovative people, take note of its rich and diverse heritage, enjoy its music, art and cuisine, engage with its writers, thinkers and philosophers, salute its youth and do business with its merchants and enjoy the warm and sincere generosity of its people. Thank you