Moayad Iskafe, a Syrian journalist who played a central role at the start of the Syrian uprising by organizing a network of local journalists to break Assad’s media siege, addresses the 6th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.
Moayad Iskafe: Good afternoon, I’m going to be speaking in arabic. I hope you will understand me. I’m an ordinary citizen, my name is Moayad Iskafe. I am an ordinary citizen like other ordinary citizens and I would like to protest against the ill treatment by Assad since the beginning of the revolution. Perhaps you may not know what is really happening, or perhaps the image is rather blurry. So, allow me to explain this to you, as a Syrian citizen, and as a journalist.
I would like to draw the general lines of what is happening in April of 2011. A certain number of families demonstrated against Bashar al-Assad, because he had imprisoned their children. Their children had written on the walls of the school. They had put a certain number of expressions, as was done in Egypt and in Tunisia during the Arab Spring, but President Assad imprisoned them, ripped off their nails, tortured them. So the parents protested’ hey asked for the children to be returned. But the regime killed them. They took action against the families, which closed ranks and they were told they were terrorists and Salafis.
This is the action that the regime carried out to put down a revolution, to put down any revolutionary activity against the regime. And this is not just due to politics, this is because people said, we are against the murders, we’re against the slaughter being carried out by the Assad regime. This is probably an exception today. In the region, near Damascus, a young man whose name is Ghiath Matar launched an initiative to offer flowers and water to Assad soldiers because he was against war. And so the soldiers put him in prison, tortured him and killed him, and delivered his body to his family with a letter saying, “you can turn him into minced meat”. They signed a document saying that terrorist Islamists who were armed, had killed this young man. This is an example of what the Bashar AlAssad regime has done. Perhaps there are videos, we’ll see demonstrations, we’ll see photos, and many other people will tell us what is happening. And we will learn about what the regime has done. They have committed torture in prisons and they have used all types of weaponry, things that are unimaginable.
I was in Aleppo. I saw how the regime of Assad launched scud missiles against inhabited areas. I saw the destruction due to the bullet shots, how chemical weapons were used, and in the suburbs of Damascus, tanks were used and all kinds of other weaponry. And a new weapon, that is to encircle the region, to starve the population. These are just a few examples of what the Assad regime has done.
Now, since the beginning of the revolution, my family was against the slaughter, the carnage, the injustice; all we wanted was a free and democratic country. We yearned for a free country, like many other countries in the world where there isn’t a bloody regime, a corrupt regime. I think this is a natural dream that all people in all countries have had since the beginning of the revolution.
And my uncles – I have seven in fact – have been imprisoned. Other people have been imprisoned as well in their place of work. One uncle is 85 years old. Another uncle who is 63 years old, his son, 33 years old, were all dragged into prison, they were grabbed at their workplace. And we know that there are many who have been tortured and murdered.
We have photos of people who were tortured and killed. We learned about this from information; my uncle was killed. There are peaceful activists and he was killed in an abject, infamous manner. He was inquiring with my uncle, aged 85, about what was happening and my 63 year-old uncle was present. And the regime started to humiliate him and to attack him. My young uncle revolted, and so the soldiers threw themselves on him, started to beat him. And two days later, he died of his wounds.
My uncle Bessel, I’d like to add, was a poet, a singer. He sang at all the family parties, he had a beautiful voice. Less than a year ago, the security forces, about 100 soldiers, went into his home while he was asleep, with his wife and his children and they stole everything. They took everything he had in his home, and they demolished everything they couldn’t carry with them. And they beat him in front of his wife and children.
During one of my trips, during my vacation in Syria, I had brought a present for my brother. The Assad soldiers took the gift. We should not justify terrorist practices. If we justify them, then we ourselves are committing terrorist acts. Assad claims that he is fighting terrorism. He claims that he is fighting terrorism. Is that true? Is that what is happening? Is he doing that with Scuds? Does he need to bomb civilian neighbourhoods? These are actions that no one in the 21st century could possibly imagine. But this is what is happening in Syria today.
So personally, I think about it and I try and understand how I, as a journalist, can transmit this information; how can I recount what is happening within the country. And sometimes I say I can’t do this because it is not something that you can recount with words or with films. I went to a region that had people who were fleeing, and I asked them why they were running away. There were missiles being launched there. So, the population got together to save the people who had been trapped under the rubble. And that is when the regime started launching rockets against those people who were trying to provide assistance to those who were trapped.
We’ve heard that things are calming down and then a half hour later, once again, the rockets start raining down on the same area. The goal is not only to kill people, the goal was to prevent the journalists from being able to go there and take photographs. They strike hard. They tried to strike this region very hard like all the other regions that are trying to get rid of Bashar Al Assad. The government is trying to punish those who revolt against it.
You’ll see the picture later on of a young man who I interviewed. His entire family was killed besides his father and a large number of his neighbours. And this young boy was talking to me in the form of a poem. I think it would be impossible to convey all of that. He said, after the bombing, my father called and said “are you okay?” I was afraid for my father and I was bleeding. And I said, “yes, I’m fine, but are you alright?” This was a child, he was 10 years old and at this terrible moment, he was worried about how his father was doing. Imagine this young boy, who at the end of this interview asked me this question, why is Bashar Al Assad trying to kill us? Is it the law of the jungle? And I think that it’s hard to find an answer to this question.
It would be hard for humanity, the history of humanity to find an answer, to understand why this crime is being committed. This recalls the Holocaust, this recalls the slaughter of millions of innocents of Rawanda. Are we seeing it again? Should we stand by and not react whilethe slaughtering is taking place in Syria? There are a numbers of people being tortured and can we say we didn’t know, we didn’t realise? Can we do this? I’m asking you. Thank you.