Reporters sans Frontieres this week demanded Syrian authorities to shed light on the status of detained writer and opposition activist Hussein Issou. There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding his case.
According to rumours that have been circulating since February 10, Issou died in detention and his body was taken to the morgue of the military hospital in Damascus. And now there is myriad disinformation and confusion about his fate. What really happens to these intellectuals, activists and chroniclers of history in a country rampant with lawlessness?
Issou was arrested on September 3 in the northeastern city of Al-Hassakah and, according to information obtained by Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF), he was admitted on January 14 to the military hospital in the Damascus suburb of Mezzeh, where he spent three days in isolation. His relatives said Issou suffered from chronic back ailments and was paralyzed on one side of his body, no longer able to stand up or walk unaided.
RSF claims Issou's name no longer appears in the official hospital register.
We all fear the worst.
It is no secret that the Syrian government now uses American software to censor its citizens. It is a full-on citizen clampdown directly linked to political tensions. As these disappearances and deaths continue, knowledge gradually gets taken away from civil society.
RSF reports a total of five journalists have died in Syria in connection with their work since July 2011. The most recent case was Gilles Jacquier, a French TV reporter working for France 2, who was killed in Homs on January 11 after entering the country with the government's permission.
There is also no news on a number of journalists who have been in detention for some time. RSF reports the list of detained netizens and bloggers is getting longer, especially as it has just learned of a number of arrests dating back several months.
Syria ranks 173 on the RSF World Press Freedom Index. This is from a total tally of 178 countries so its a top tier predator of information exchange.
As Syrian deaths spike, we need Arab states to mediate talks and to ensure the voice of the Syrian people does not get wiped out. Despite repeated Arab League Observer visits, Assad and his officials manage to escape with impunity.
In response to growing censorship tactics imposed by draconian regimes like Assad's, RSF has created mirror sites brilliantly titled "Operation Mirrors". So that independent news websites that are targeted by cyber-attacks and government restrictions can continue posting information online, the Organization will soon create other mirrors and urge Internet users who want to help combat censorship and have the ability to host a site on a web server to follow suit.
Filtering information and silencing the voices of the Syrian people is just another sad reminder of how brutal regimes are winning the war on global knowledge sharing.
Perhaps we can all work together to set up mirror sites for citizens desperate to communicate inside Syria. These deaths, dissapearances and jailings have got to stop.