SYRIA: Another blogger jailed as social media fuels protests in Arab world


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At a time when online activism can be risky, as it is credited with -- or blamed for -- fanning the flames of activism sweeping the region, a veteran Syrian blogger has been arrested.

Ahmad Abu Khair was pulled over and arrested early Sunday morning while driving from the coastal town of Banias to Damascus, according to the advocacy group Global Voices and a Facebook group calling for his release (link in Arabic). The charges against him are still unknown, but Khair was enthusiastic in his online support of the ouster of former Tunisian President Zine al Abadine Ben Ali.


In a recent post on his blog titled ‘Inspired by the revolution’ (Arabic link), Khair compared the conditions that led to the uprising in Tunisia with the situation in Syria and other Arab countries, concluding: ‘Change is possible ... but by revolution!’

But others have said that Khair’s comments were not seen as particularly controversial and were echoed by many in the blogosphere.

‘All Syrian bloggers praised the revolution and talked generally about why change is important,’ a source in Syria with knowledge of social media told Babylon & Beyond. ‘If his blog was the reason’ for his arrest, ‘then this is surely a change of policy: If you support a revolution you’ll be detained.’

The source asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. Khair’s arrest coincides with reports that the hunger strike of jailed Kurdish-Syrian blogger and rights activist Kamal Hussein Sheikho had entered its fifth day on Sunday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (Arabic link).

The 33-year-old blogger was arrested in June at the Lebanese-Syrian border and charged with ‘spreading false information to weaken the morale of the nation.’

Khair’s arrest also comes one week after 19-year-old blogger Tal Mallouhi was found guilty of passing information to the United States and sentenced to five years in prison. The verdict was condemned by human-rights groups and the U.S. State Department, which called for her immediate release.

Mallouhi was held ‘incommunicado without charge’ for at least nine months, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, before she was tried in secret by a state security court.

-- Los Angeles Times in Beirut