29 May 2012
Ongoing deadly clashes in Syria have become so common that news of yet another blast or attack on protesters by security forces often fails to make it to the front pages of international media.
But for Omar Assil, a leading member of the Syrian Non Violence Movement (SNVM) currently studying in the UK. each report of violence means one of his friends or loved ones could be at risk.
“Every week I get news of the arrest of another of my friends. Last month the body of one of them was returned to his family in Homs,” he told Amnesty International.
“Every week there is another bombing in Damascus and my parents are living in a constant state of stress and fear. It’s hard to concentrate on my studies. I am always distracted with the news.”
Before arriving in the UK in September last year, he took part in several demonstrations in Damascus. He always managed to avoid arrest, but witnessed first-hand the brutal treatment protesters were subjected to at the hands of police.
When the Free Syrian Army was formed by defectors from the Syrian military last summer in response to the crackdown on civilians, the idea that the opposition should be armed began to grow among many Syrians, says Assil.
“At that time, we felt it was important to spread awareness about keeping the revolution peaceful and to use any non-violent means to support our objectives. That’s why we formed the SNVM.
“Our main aim is to spread awareness about how the change should happen. We communicate with people on the ground and ask them about their needs. We plan online awareness campaigns and events, sometimes in Syria.”
Assil cannot return to his home for fear of either being arrested or subject to a travel ban. Nor can his parents visit him in the UK, as many European countries are restricting visas to Syrian nationals.
Although he says many ordinary Syrians feel the outside world is not helping them, they have not given up. Many of his friends who have been arrested are back on the streets protesting the same day they are let out of prison.
“If nobody helps the Syrian protesters, it may end in civil war. But this is part of SNVM’s campaign: we are looking for change, not revenge,” says Assil.
“If the international community put more pressure on the Syrian government to allow foreign journalists into the country, it would help.
“Syrian protesters upload footage to Youtube from their mobile phones, but the regime constantly blocks phone and internet access in protest areas.
“All we need is a camera that can document to the outside world what is happening in my country.”