“Syrian society, which had long been apathetic and sterile, has awoken through this crisis,” said Peter Harling, a project director in Damascus, the Syrian capital, for the International Crisis Group. “It is proving amazingly creative, producing its own literature, displaying a powerful sense of humor and finding 1,001 ways to report events despite the media clampdown.”
Nazir Jandali’s two-month-old online publication, Syria Wants Freedom, has articles in Arabic about the government’s security presence in cities, the work of human rights monitors from the Arab League, as well as satirical cartoons and discussions of literature. His readers are both inside and outside the country, he says.
“We started this project mainly to establish the free press in our country,” said Jandali, a 28-year-old Syrian living in Saudi Arabia, “and to build awareness in Syria about what is going on during our revolution.”
Like many of those who work in the new publications, Jandali was an activist before he started editing. A network of people who worked as journalists before the uprising submit their work anonymously and for free inside Syria, e-mailing it to his colleague in Damascus, he said.
Some Syrian journalists contributed anonymously to international publications before the uprising began, but after more than four decades of censorship and repression of political life under Assad and his father, Hafez, their numbers were few.
Now, the outlets have multiplied. Another publication, Hurriyat, or Freedoms, is produced by people who have designated themselves journalists since the protest movement gathered momentum and send stories to an editor abroad.
The Hurriyat editor, who gives his name as Kareem Lailah and says he lives in Europe, is also an activist. The publication includes analysis of the chaotic political opposition and poetic reflections on life since the protests began. “The Revolution was ignited, and the earth aches in it with the free spirits,” reads one of several articles translated into English on one section of the Web site.
The names of the writers are not known — sometimes even by their editors — and the tone of many of the new publications is of revolutionary fervor rather than dispassionate reportage.
Along with the magazines have come new blogs and Web sites that post protest footage and death toll updates. The Syrian government’s restrictions on foreign journalists’ access to the country make it difficult to verify claims made in the new publications, as well as the identities of the reporters and editors. Few foreign journalists were granted visas last year, even after an agreement brokered by the Arab League late last year under which the government was to allow international media into the country.