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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Gay reporting from the Syrian frontline

President Assad
By Paul Canning

Gay Middle East's Syrian Editor Sami Hamwi has been reporting for the website as that country descends further into a massive government crackdown on any opposition.

Today it has been reported that Syria is using Iranian tactics and shutting down electronic avenues for activists to communicate with each other and with the outside world.

But Sami has somehow managed to evade the secret police and the army and has posted today that despite President Assad lifting the emergency law, security agencies “secret police” are still arresting, threatening, and, in some places, killing people.
"Any kind of gathering is still forbidden and questioned by the secret police. A few days ago, my friends and I were waiting for a bus a little bit after midnight, when we were questioned by secret police; they checked our phones for videos or pictures, and they asked to check my laptop. Suspecting that we are gay, they made some offensive remarks about LGBT people trying to provoke a response."
Sami says that a gay man was arrested after waiters turned him in a coffee shop for watching youtube videos about the protests.
"LGBT people have a lot more to be afraid of these days, especially that the secret police might threaten them to expose them as LGBT people if they “do not cooperate”."
In a previous posting, he said he had "felt liberated" by the protests. But then he talks about the mounting bloodshed and the fear of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.
"With the authorities banning independent media from covering the events, “eye witnesses” have been the only source of information we can rely on. [Anyone trying] to film or photograph the events is faced by shooting or at least beating and breaking the device."
He says that before LGBT could "function" but the crackdown on any kind of gathering "has been, and still is, very dangerous. This affected all aspects of LGBT life."
"The least thing that might happen is that people might attribute “bad events” to “god’s rage” against sinners, i.e. LGBT people. Comments like this have been already made in front of me a few times. Therefore, LGBT people have more worries now than ever before; we all want the best for the country, but we have to emphysise that more rights for Syrians will lead to more rights for LGBT people eventually. We hope that the regime will find a way to dialogue with protesters and exiled opposition to find a way to stop shedding more Syrian blood."
Another LGBT voice coming out of Syria is Amina Abdullah's blog, A Gay Girl in Damascus. Like thousands of others, she has been forced underground. Her blog has drawn international attention, following a story in The Guardian.

Her first post, in February, asked 'IS THIS DAWN OR DUSK? What can Arab LGBT people expect with the changes underway?'

She wrote:
We know there are risks but we also know that the way we are living can’t last.  This lack of freedom slowly suffocates us; I do not know a gay woman here who does not dreaming of living in the west.
We aren’t supporting the idea of replacing secular dictatorship with religious dictatorships; we hope that the religious parties do keep their word if elections come and they win and govern as an elected party.  It can’t be much worse.

And we also know that many have used religion as a means of oppression for people like us, whether it is in the name of Islam, Judaism, or Christianity.  But, even then, maybe there is hope.  In actual Islamic legal thinking, as opposed to in that version practiced by oppressive cultures, the ‘sin’ of lesbianism is just that it is sex outside.

But a revolution is underway and all of us want to see it revolutionize every aspect of our societies, rethinking not just how the states are governed but also the role of women in these societies, the rights of sexual autonomy, and, yes, the right to marry who we love.
We can only hope that the future for both Amina and Sami is as they hope. Right now, it is grim.
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