by Gideon Spitzer
Middle East Quarterly
Winter 2009, p. 96

http://www.meforum.org/2098/dissident-watch-tariq-biasi

On June 7, 2007, Syrian military intelligence arrested blogger Tariq Biasi on charges of "undermining national sentiment" and "publishing false information."[1] Biasi, a 23-year-old computer technician from Banyas, Syria, who suffers from liver disease, is just the most recent in a slew of arrests targeting Syrian bloggers.

Tariq Biasi

Reporters Without Borders reports that Biasi was accused of blogging against the government on a computer shared by six other people including an Internet café.[2] After his arrest and questioning by Syrian military intelligence, Biasi was held incommunicado at the Palestine Security Branch in Damascus;[3] Syrian authorities did not lodge official charges against him for more than six months.[4] Biasi's blog comments reportedly criticized Syrian military intelligence for focusing on civilians instead of foreign military targets.[5] On May 11, 2008, the Syrian security court in Damascus sentenced Biasi to three years in prison after reducing his sentence from six years.[6] Members of Biasi's family are no strangers to detention by the Syrian government: The regime imprisoned his father for twenty years after he was accused of membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, an accusation vehemently denied by bloggers familiar with the case.[7]

Over the last several years, the Syrian government has required Internet café operators to report on the sites visited by their customers. Furthermore, website owners have been forced under threat of punishment to reveal the names of their written contributors, thus removing the ability of bloggers to anonymously express their opinions.[8]

Another Syrian blogger, Ahed al-Hindi, 23, was imprisoned in December 2006 after the owner of an Internet café filmed Hindi posting "illegal" comments about the government. He spent a month in prison for his online comments and subsequently left Syria for Lebanon.[9] Hindi calls blogging in Syria a "dangerous activity" and states that at least eight Syrian dissident bloggers were arrested in Syria in the past year. The Syrian government claims it is acting to protect national security against a spam campaign started by "Israelis who infiltrated the Syrian Internet community."[10]

As a result of Biasi's arrest and sentencing, his freedom has become something of a rallying cry for Syrian dissidents, both in Syria and abroad. Many websites have sprung up on the Internet to support Biasi, including one operated by a group of five Syrian bloggers (freetariq.org). In addition, these bloggers have set up a Facebook group (officially banned in Syria) and a global petition on Biasi's behalf.

[1] Al-Jazeera.net, Mar. 11, 2008.
[2] Reporters Without Borders, news release, Feb. 25, 2008.
[3] Human Rights Watch, news release, Oct. 8, 2007.
[4] Ahlan Wa Sahlan, Life after Syria Blog, Feb. 5, 2008; "Free Syrian Blogger Tariq Biassi," Gopetition.com, Jan. 20, 2008
[5] Muslim.net, June 30, 2008.
[6] MideastYouth.com, May 14, 2008.
[7] MideastYouth.com, Jan. 9, 2008; National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, news release, Jan. 19, 2008.
[8] Human Rights Watch, news release, Oct. 8, 2007; Reporters Without Borders, news release, Feb. 25, 2008.
[9] The Globe and Mail (London), Nov. 23, 2007.
[10] Arab Press Network, Mar. 12, 2008.

Gideon Spitzer is a former intern at the Middle East Quarterly and a history and political science major at the University of Pennsylvania.

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