By Mohammad Ali Al Abdallah
Published: May 01, 2009, 22:51
The lack of press freedom has defined the life of Mohammad Ali Al Abdullah. He has been detained, his brother is serving a five-year sentence in a secret location, and his father is finishing a one-year prison term.
Al Abdullah recently fled Syria and received refugee status in the US. He is an outspoken advocate for human rights through his widely followed blog I’m leaving, and I’m not coming back. Al Abdullah is exploiting the blogosphere to fight for change. He talks about his battle for freedom of expression.
How is your work contributing to the establishment or defence of press freedom in Syria?
Freedom of expression is perhaps the most fundamental right, because without it we cannot demand any other right. However, it goes hand in hand with press freedom, since the press is the most organised and institutionalised voice of the people. Defending journalists and the press is tantamount to defending our own voice, our own ideas, and most importantly, their expression in the public forum. From attending court hearings to supporting the family of imprisoned journalists, everyone can contribute in their own way. Of course, my activities as a press freedom supporter put me at risk. My father was sent to jail after being tried three times in three years, but that has helped me to truly relate to the pain and the fear.
Have blogs and new media in Syria been able to bypass government censorship?
I guess we are able to bypass the government thanks to our numbers: anyone can blog and a lot of people have access to the internet, so censoring everything is impossible. In the face of censorship, quantity is more important than quality.
How are bloggers challenging traditional media practices?
I think bloggers are not here to challenge traditional media, but rather to complement view points, offer different sides to a story, and, to an extent, act as a check on traditional media’s historic monopoly over information and fact. For me, the biggest difference between bloggers and journalists is that there are no rules or censorship in blogging. You don’t have to worry about the word count of your article and editors hanging over your shoulder telling you what is good and bad. Most importantly, you publish exactly what you want. No one picks your words except yourself. Anyone on the street can now break the story; it’s no longer solely in the hands of a media elite.
What about the issue of legitimacy?
The fact that we are getting arrested, like traditional journalists, points to our legitimacy. It means that we are doing something right. It takes very little, even in developing nations, to get information out to the world, we can post pictures instantly from the streets with our cellphones, and we can text our article while we are being shot at.
– World Association of Newspapers, 2009
Mohammad Ali Al Abdullah, blogger, Syria