REUTERS: With only a few hours sleep, a phone glued to his ear and another two ringing, the fast-talking director of arguably Syria’s most high-profile human rights group is a very busy man.
“Are there clashes? How did he die? Ah, he was shot,” said Rami Abdulrahman into a phone, the talk of gunfire and death incongruous with his two bedroom terraced home in Coventry, from where he runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
When he isn’t fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife.
Cited by virtually every major news outlet since an uprising against the iron rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March, the observatory has been a key source of news on the events in Syria.
Most foreign media have been banned from reporting in Syria.
“The calls come 24 hours a day, you’ve seen how many I’ve had in the last hour,” Abdulrahman, 40, told Reuters as he answered reporters’ calls, as well as calls from his network of sources in Syria.
“My job, my clothing business, my nerves have all been affected due to the pressure. Some nights I only get three hours sleep,” he said.
Surrounded by the trappings of family life — a glitter-spangled card made by his young daughter, a monkey doll with “Best Dad” on its belly — Abdulrahman sits with a laptop and phones and pieces together accounts of conflict and rights abuses before uploading news to the internet.
After three short spells in prison in Syria for pro-democracy activism, Abdulrahman came to Britain in 2000 fearing a longer, fourth jail term.
“I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I’ll return when Bashar al-Assad goes,” Abdulrahman said, referring to Bashar’s father and predecessor Hafez, also an autocrat.
What began nearly nine months ago as a peaceful protest movement against Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, has slid closer to civil war as armed opposition groups organise and protect city districts.
According to the observatory’s latest figures, 3,441 civilians and 1,280 security forces have been killed. The United Nations says at least 4,000 people have died, with about a quarter of the dead from the security forces.
Video footage and witness accounts tell of Syrian security forces opening fire on unarmed protesters, mass arrests and the torture of people in prison, some to death.
Assad, who is under growing international pressure, including the threat of sanctions from the Arab League, on Wednesday denied ordering his troops to kill peaceful demonstrators.
With infiltration attempts by Syrian agents, misinformation from rival opposition groups, threats from Assad supporters and even pressure from pro-Assad members of his own family, Abdulrahman’s mission to document the violence is no easy task.
“We want accuracy and transparency in the news,” he said.
“We have had many infiltration attempts by the Syrian intelligence services, but we don’t put any news out until we are 100 percent certain about our source. If the source is new, we have to verify the information with other sources,” he added.
His sources, some cultivated over many years, risk their lives to investigate incidents and call him with information.
Six have already been killed, Abdulrahman said, but despite the danger the observatory’s network of contacts has expanded to more than 200 people from 54 since the uprising began, he said.
Abdulrahman, a Sunni Muslim, is acutely sensitive that his reports are seen as free from bias, given accusations against him of sectarianism, of being in the pay of foreign agents or of being swayed or infiltrated by Assad’s security services.
Sunnis are the majority in Syria, but the country has long been dominated by Assad’s Alawite minority sect.
“I have Alawites phoning and complaining, Sunnis phoning and complaining. I’m between two fires. But it shows I’m being neutral if both sides complain,” he said, insisting he accepts no funding and runs the observatory on a voluntary basis.
Members of Abdulrahman’s wife’s family have been arrested and beaten, he said, while he receives threatening text messages. Some of Abdulrahman’s family refuse to speak to him, supporting Assad out of what he said was fear or ignorance.
One of his brothers has pictures of news outlets, which have featured negative coverage of Assad, on his floor to walk on in a sign of disprespect, Abdulrahman said, laughing.
“No matter the huge pressure or the difficulties, we have democracy ahead of us.”
[SKS comment: We can confirm that Rami Abdurrahman works tirelessly for human rights with great integrity. He is a pattern and example in the world of someone who has given themselves for the good of others. We should also remember his lovely family who support him in his work.
Rami Abdurrahman and Hivin Kako are the only members of the Syrian Rights Observatory for Human Rights ourside Syria. Their only website is http://syriahr.com, and you can contact Rami at firstname.lastname@example.org]
AFP: LONDON, Aug 1, 2011 (AFP) – Thousands of miles from his homeland, Rami Abdel Rahman runs a network of 200 rights activists across Syria who report to him to allow news of the latest bloodshed in their country to reach the outside world.
“We are all normal people, with normal lives, normal families. We don’t have an office. We work from home or from our jobs,” said Abdel Rahman, 40, in a telephone interview from his home in Britain.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which he heads has burst onto the world stage as a primary source of information for the world media since his country’s anti-government revolt erupted in mid-March.
With foreign reporters denied access on the ground, the activists armed with names — based on hospital lists — of those killed in clashes between security forces and protesters have been the source of front page news.
Abdel Rahman, who hails from the eastern Mediterranean city of Banias, is the only member living in exile. To avoid the network being dismantled if one member is detained, most of his colleagues do not know each other.
Contacts are made through Skype, Gmail and by telephone on unregistered numbers.
Critics have questioned Abdel Rahman’s credibility and claimed he is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood with a political agenda, while the authorities in Damascus accuse him of being on a mission to destabilise the country.
“I am an independent, I am not a Muslim Brotherhood member and I’m not in the communist party,” said Abdel Rahman, who describes himself as close to prominent and often jailed Syrian opposition figures such as Michel Kilo.
“We don’t receive a penny from anyone,” he said, insisting that its own members fund the Observatory and an Arabic-language website.
Fending off charges of being a propagandist, the Syrian Observatory head has declined to corroborate reports of defections within the army or allegations of active Iranian involvement in crushing protests in Syria.
On Sunday, an army assault on the rebellious city of Hama, north of Damascus, killed around 100 people, according to activists, triggering furious international condemnation.
The city of Hama, famed for its ancient watermills, was the site of the 1982 killing of 20,000 people when the military put down an Islamist revolt.
Abdel Rahman said a repeat of such a large-scale massacre would not be possible in the age of Facebook, Twitter and of NGOs such as the Syrian Observatory which was founded five years ago.
“In the end we will get democracy in Syria, within six months,” he predicted. “We are going through a very hard time, we have to be patient, we are like in a war. But we must not give up now.”
Abdel Rahman said “Syria will never be the same again” after the March 15 outbreak of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad and his Baath party.
The activist’s passion for the cause of human rights dates back to an incident he witnessed at the age of seven “when I saw my big sister beaten up” by security agents, the Observatory chief said.
Abdel Rahman moved to Britain in 2000, faced with the prospect of arrest back home for his activism, and now lives with his Syrian wife and their five-year-old daughter, keeping a low profile.
He scoffs at Western calls for Assad to bring in reforms.
“I don’t trust the international community… It is up to the Syrian people to do it for ourselves,” he said.
Rami Abdurrahman, Founder of the Syrian Human Rights Observatory
Quote – 15/12/2011 – 16:12