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Syria Crackdown: Syrian Dissident Haitham al-Maleh Speaks from Hiding as Al Jazeera Journalist Dorothy Parvaz Remains Locked Up

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sent tanks into the country’s third city, Homs, escalating a military campaign to crush a seven-week-old popular uprising against his autocratic rule. According to the Syrian human rights organization Sawasiah, as many as 800 civilians have been killed since the uprising began. More than 10,000 people have been arrested. Today, we look at two cases. One of Syria’s most prominent human rights defenders, Haitham Maleh, speaks from hiding, and we look at the case of detained Al Jazeera reporter Dorothy Parvaz, an American, Canadian and Iranian citizen who used to work at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryApr 25, 2011Syrian Crackdown Intensifies: Over 150 Killed Since Friday as Assad Regime Attempts to Crush Protest Movement
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad sent tanks into the country’s third city, Homs, escalating a military campaign to crush a seven-week-old uprising against his autocratic rule. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a 12-year-old child was killed when tanks and troops charged into the Bab Sebaa, Bab Amro and Tal al-Sour districts of Homs.

Syrians demanding political freedom and an end to corruption have held weeks of demonstrations in the face of government repression. According to the Syrian human rights organization Sawasiah, as many as 800 civilians have been killed since the uprising began.

Meanwhile, scores of Syria’s most prominent intellectuals and activists have gone into hiding as government forces continue to carry out raids and arrests across the country. Two former guests on Democracy Now! are now in hiding: Haitham Maleh and Razan Zeitouneh, both prominent Syrian human rights attorneys. Human rights organizations estimate the Syrian authorities have detained more than 7,000 people since protests began in mid-March.

The Syrian government has also been cracking down on journalists. Foreign reporters are banned from entering the country. Syrian authorities have kept a journalist with Al Jazeera, named Dorothy Parvaz, in detention for 10 days. Parvaz is an American, Canadian and Iranian citizen. She used to work at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Her fiancé recently issued an appeal through Al Jazeera English.

TODD BARKER: She sees her profession as a force for good, peace and justice in the world. She has worked at newspapers across the globe, from Japan to Arizona, from Seattle, Washington, to Doha, Qatar, where she currently works at Al Jazeera English.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Todd Barker, Dorothy Parvaz’s fiancé, issuing a statement last week on behalf of her family.

To discuss the crackdown on journalists in Syria, we’re joined by Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the coordinator of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Committee to Protect Journalists. And we go to Seattle to speak with Larry Johnson, the former foreign editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who worked with Dorothy Parvaz for 10 years.

Larry, let’s begin with you. Tell us who Dorothy Parvaz is.

LARRY JOHNSON: Dorothy is a very hard-hitting journalist. She’s very smart, very dedicated to her work. She sees journalism as a force for good in the world. And so, that’s who she is.

AMY GOODMAN: How did she come to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer a decade ago?

LARRY JOHNSON: Well, she had been working for the Seattle Times, actually, and then — I believe on an internship — and then took the job with us as a features writer. And then she moved through various positions at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. And when she left, she was an opinion page writer. She left for the Nieman Fellowship.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the kind of reporting she did while at the Seattle PI, and particularly, for example, her work in Iran.

LARRY JOHNSON: Well, she did a lot of good work at the PI, always with a lot of intelligence and wit. She always stuck up for the underdog. She’s very concerned with social justice. And being from Iran, she wanted to go back home and report on the situation there, which she finally did, I believe, in 2004. And she sent back a series of very good reports on just general life in Iran, trying to make Iran more open to the West.

AMY GOODMAN: Larry Johnson, talk about your own experience being held captive. In your case, it was Colombia?

LARRY JOHNSON: It was. And, you know, I should point out that it was a very different time, a very different situation. This was more than — about 30 years ago. And I was a freelancer, and I was covering armed revolutionaries. And I had been in the country for about four months covering those groups, when I was arrested. And so, I was treated pretty much as a supporter of the armed revolutionaries, which was a whole different situation.

However, the lesson that is the same as in Dorothy’s case was that I was released after a letter campaign, telegrams, calls to the Colombian president and to our State Department, that grew and grew over a few days until there were hundreds of telegrams coming in daily to the president’s office in Colombia. And they realized that I was indeed a journalist, not a revolutionary, and so they released me. And so, I see that as a good thing for Dorothy. We have the Facebook campaign, a Twitter campaign. We’re calling the State Department. We’re calling the White House. And I hope she’ll be free soon.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this campaign. Dorothy is unusual. She is a U.S. citizen, a Canadian citizen, an Iranian citizen. You’re working both in Seattle and also in Vancouver, where her family is?

LARRY JOHNSON: That’s correct. We’re trying to coordinate it more now. In the beginning, it was just her friends, her colleagues, relatives, all doing things, whatever they could, to get the word out and to contact members of their local legislators. Now it’s more organized, and it’s spread all over the world. She has friends in Ireland, in England, in the Middle East. So everyone is contacting the local Syrian embassy or consulate. They’re talking to their governments. And the Facebook campaign has really grown enormously in just a week. Well, it’s been 10 days now. It now has about 10,000 people following the Facebook page. And that’s where you can go and get information on who to contact and what the latest news is.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the Committee to Protect Journalists to talk about her case in the context of reporters not being allowed in Syria right now. But we just have gotten Haitham Maleh on the front, a prominent Syrian dissident and human rights attorney. Because he is in hiding, and we have not been able to get him ’til now, I want to make sure that we get his voice in here.

Haitham, can you talk about the situation in Syria right now and why you’ve gone into hiding?

HAITHAM MALEH: It is getting worse. Very bad situation in all Syria. The army attack the people everywhere. They send tanks for the south Syria, in Daraa, in [inaudible], around Damascus, in Homs, in Banias. For example, in 15 days, I cannot go home. There’s cars, security cars, around my home. They want to attack me. I received a telephone call, for 15 days, so I left my house, morning at 4:00, morning, because what I heard. So, more than 10,000 people are arrested everywhere. And the regime changed Article 17 in the criminal law. And in this article, they take the right to the police to investigate instead of the court, instead of the judges. So, you see, the police can arrest people for seven days, and then they can take permission from attorney public in 60 days. In this time, they can do what they need. They use torture in very bad way. So, this the very short situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Haitham al-Maleh, you just said 10,000 people have been arrested, you believe? Now, you yourself have been held —


AMY GOODMAN: Say that again.

HAITHAM MALEH: Yes, more than 10,000.

AMY GOODMAN: You yourself —

HAITHAM MALEH: More than 10,000 arrested, yes. More than 10,000 arrested everywhere, from all cities, all villages in Syria. They use bombs. They use guns, pistols. They kill people. They mean to kill the people in — as they need to be to kill the people, an idea to kill — they don’t die by accident or by —- we lost more than a thousand persons killed for these demonstrations. From a month ’til now, around month ’til now, a thousand people killed, and a lot of people to hospitals. They use now some schools to be as jails, because there is no places. So, the protest people -—

AMY GOODMAN: They’re using schools to — they’re using schools as jails?

HAITHAM MALEH: As jails, yes, yes. Yeah, yeah, yes —

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think —

HAITHAM MALEH: —- because there are no places, and they arrest more than -—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to happen right now?

HAITHAM MALEH: I don’t know what will happen, but the people, every day and night, they demonstration. The street move ’til now. And the regime has no idea to finish this situation by polity; they want to finish everything by force. In my opinion, they have some commission with Iran at this point. They help them. The Iranian regime help them to finish this situation by using force. So, they have no another idea.

AMY GOODMAN: You were imprisoned for years as a human rights attorney.


AMY GOODMAN: How does this period compare to what happened under Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, when he killed more than 10,000 Syrians who were protesting his rule?

HAITHAM MALEH: He killed not 10,000. He killed between 60,000 and 70,000 in Syria. He killed, in the time between ’80 and ’90, through 10 years, we lost more than 60,000. In Hama only, there were more than 40,000 killed in that time. So, a lot of massacres happened in Syria, a crime against humanism. If you compare it, the same way now. The regime now, they use the same way as that way, nothing different. But maybe the quantity of the people who are killed maybe this time is less, but the way, the same way.

AMY GOODMAN: That was 1982, the Hama massacre. Today, we are talking about journalists detained, one journalist for Al Jazeera, Dorothy Parvaz, and the fact that Bashar al-Assad, they have forbidden foreign reporters. How important are reporters to be there right now, Haitham al-Maleh?

HAITHAM MALEH: What can I say at this point? You know, there is no media now in Syria. Even they closed the internet. Half of the internet is closed. Also, the mobile, if they saw a mobile with anyone who listening, they took it. They take it if they saw a mobile. They try to — they push out all the journalists, all the media, the foreign media, except the media of the regime. So, nothing — no cover for the movement in Syria. A lot of — some groups inside the country, they send messages about the idea for future, but no one from the side of the regime want to hear the people. And I think, in general, the regime will continue attack the people, kill the people, 'til — at least ’til — as they want to finish the movement in the street, but I don't think that they will have it, because the people continue to move through the street, and they pay that for their freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: Haitham, you said the internet is partially down? They’ve taken it partially down?

HAITHAM MALEH: Yeah, yeah, yes. They close everything. By myself, four days, I cannot use the internet. Everything is closed.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid for your life right now, Haitham al-Maleh?


AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid for your life?


AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think — what do you think people outside of Syria can do right now about the situation inside?

HAITHAM MALEH: I don’t know what the people will do, but the people will continue war through the street [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: Haitham al-Maleh, I thank you very much for —

HAITHAM MALEH: [inaudible], yeah —

AMY GOODMAN: — for being with us.

HAITHAM MALEH: Thank you, too. Bye.

AMY GOODMAN: Bye, bye. Haitham al-Maleh, prominent Syrian dissident and human rights attorney, speaking to us from hiding. We have been trying to reach him for days.

Mohamed Abdel Dayem, you are with the Committee to Protect Journalists. We see why it’s so important to get word out of Syria, yet talk about the situation for reporters in Syria, and talk particularly, as well, about Dorothy Parvaz.

MOHAMED ABDEL DAYEM: Well, the Syrian government is doing everything it can in an attempt to control them there, in an attempt to institute a media blackout. And Dorothy Parvaz’s arrest almost 10 days ago is simply the latest episode in this ongoing attempt. Having said that, the Syrian government’s attempts are futile, in a way. It is simply not possible, in this day and age with the proliferation of mobile technology and video cameras on every single cell phone, virtually, and the sheer number of people out on the streets, to snuff out every last piece of video, audio and still photography.

And at the end of the day, it almost doesn’t matter if professional journalists are on the ground or not. Obviously, journalists want to get into Syria. Local Syrian journalists want to go out onto the streets and interview people. And the government has made it very difficult, if not impossible, for people to do that. But that hasn’t snuffed out regional or international reporting on Syria. It is a huge story. It is a newsworthy story. And, you know, this program and every other program will continue to cover it. And the Syrian government’s attempt to institute this media blackout will really do nothing to change that dynamic, ultimately.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about Dorothy Parvaz, the reporter who now reports for Al Jazeera. She came into Damascus, was immediately detained. In fact, her family didn’t actually know what happened to her for days.

MOHAMED ABDEL DAYEM: Yes. Well, we now believe that Ms. Parvaz was detained at the Damascus airport. As far as we know, she didn’t violate any Syrian laws. She didn’t commit any crimes. She was held incommunicado by the government for five days. It took the government five days to merely acknowledge that she is in their custody. That, of course, is worrying. But then again, we’re used to that from the Syrian government. Virtually every single journalist, be they a local journalist or an international journalist, when they get arrested or detained by the Syrian government, are eventually — at least initially held incommunicado. Syrian journalists, local Syrian journalists, are usually held for — on average, for longer periods of time, are mistreated more so than international journalists. But the point remains that everybody gets detained at least initially incommunicado. And that period can range from a few days well into the weeks and sometimes over a month. Some of the Syrian journalists being held right now as we speak have been held for numerous weeks, in some cases five or six weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: Who are the other reporters?

MOHAMED ABDEL DAYEM: There’s about a handful of Syrian journalists that are being held. There was an international journalist, an Algerian journalist, who was working for Le Monde and a number of other French publications, who was being held for a while. He was just released a number of days ago. Right now, Dorothy Parvaz is the only international journalist being held, alongside about a handful of local journalists.

Of course, there’s the revolving door policy, so as they release a few journalists, they arrest some more. And as they release some journalists, they’re expelling others out of the country. So far, the Syrian government has expelled five Reuters journalists, two AP journalists and close to a dozen Arab journalists at various points through this uprising that is now in its seventh week.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re here in New York, Mohamed. Have you contacted the Syrian consulate or embassy?

MOHAMED ABDEL DAYEM: Well, we are in touch with all actors in this situation. So we’re in touch with the Syrian authorities. We’re usually in touch with the employers of these various journalists. When possible, we’re in touch with their family members. And what we really try to do here is to give the best advice possible to the families and employers of these people. But then when we’re in touch with the government, we urge them and — we urge them to really respect their international obligations, respect their own domestic laws. And in the case of Ms. Parvaz, for example, if the Syrian government believes she has broken any law, they need to arrest her, arrest her and announce that she’s been arrested, not hold her incommunicado for five days, and charge her with a crime or let her go. They have to decide. They can’t have it both ways.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Abdel Dayem is with the Committee to Protect Journalists. We’re going to ask him to stay, because we want to talk also about Egypt and Tunisia, what has happened there. Also with us, Larry Johnson from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Finally, Larry Johnson, what are you calling for now? And can you talk about websites, Facebook, Twitter, that has been set up that people can get more information on?

LARRY JOHNSON: Yes. Now we’re asking people to focus on sending emails, calling the White House, our State Department, Secretary Hillary Clinton. We believe it’s on our government now to do something about the situation with Dorothy. She’s an American citizen. She’s an American journalist. We’ve created this page, it’s called Free Dorothy Parvaz on Facebook. Excuse me. You can go there, get all the information of who to contact, the phone numbers, email addresses, and you can be in touch with the family and all of her friends and colleagues.

AMY GOODMAN: Larry Johnson —

LARRY JOHNSON: There’s also the Twitter campaign, using the hashtag #freedorothy.

AMY GOODMAN: Thanks so much for being with us. Larry Johnson is former foreign editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. When we come back, we’ll also be joined by Sharif Abdel Kouddous from the streets of Cairo, Egypt. Stay with us.

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