Pro-democracy protests in Syria appeared to have started in earnest Tuesday, as a group of 200 mostly young protesters gathered in the Syrian capital Damascus to demand reforms and the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a 'Day of Rage', Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.
A Facebook group called “The Syrian Revolution 2011 Syrian revolt against Bashar al-Assad” garnered more than 41,000 fans, Syrian Twitter users tweeted for the world to pay attention, and video footage emerged that purportedly showed the protests.
Witnesses said the gathering was relatively small, but significant for a country in which anti-government protests are rare. Rights groups and activists blamed the low turnout on an internet crackdown by the government.‘Cyber activist’ Malath Aumran told the Post that protesters will gather again this afternoon.
WATCH the video footage that purportedly shows a demonstration in Syria Tuesday:
The Syrian people say they are protesting against the repressive measures of Assad’s regime, including a tightening of Internet censorship, expanded use of travel bans, and the arrest of political prisoners.
Two hundred Web sites are inaccessible in Syria and a law was put into place in 2007 that forces Internet cafes to record all the comments users post on chat forums, Reporters Without Borders reported. Assad has permitted the existence of radio stations playing Western pop music, but Web sites such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, were banned, the Economist reported in 2008. In February 2010, Syria lifted the ban on Facebook and YouTube but convicted a teenage girl of espionage and sentenced her to five years in prison for political poetry she wrote on her blog, AFP reported.
The regime has also expanded the use of travel bans against dissidents to prevent them going abroad, a practice illegal under international law, according to the Economist in September 2010.
In 2007, the New York Times reported the arrest of 30 political prisoners in Syria.
Leading up to today’s protests, Foreign Policy Magazine analyzed the likelihood of Assad’s regime in using force against protesters if pro-democracy demonstrations began:
Bashar al-Assad’s threat to use force against protesters would be more plausible than Tunisia’s or Egypt’s were. So, unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, where a professionally trained military tended to play an independent role, the regime and its loyal forces have been able to deter all but the most resolute and fearless oppositional activists. In this respect, the situation in Syria is to a certain degree comparable to Saddam Hussein’s strong Sunni minority rule in Iraq. At the same time, it is significantly different from Libya, where the military, although brutal and loyal to the regime, is a more disorganized group of militant thugs than a trained and disciplined army.
As protests began, Syrian Twitter users in and outside of the country tweeted for the world to pay attention:
We’ll update you as soon as we have more information.
This post originally did not state that Facebook and Youtube’s ban had been lifted. This version has been corrected.