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Blogger ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ goes missing

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-06-13

As an openly gay female blogger in a conservative country, Amina Omari Abdallah al-Araf is no stranger to danger. On Monday the author of ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ was abducted in the Syrian capital in broad daylight.

Correction: Since publishing this article FRANCE 24 has learnt that the purported author of “Gay Girl in Damascus”, Amina Omari Abdallah al-Araf, is in fact a fictional character created by a 40-year-old American man studying in Scotland. Author of the blog Tom MacMaster issued an apology on the blog Sunday, saying he “never expected this level of attention”.

She says she is the “ultimate outsider” – a half American, half Syrian gay rights activist and blogger working in deeply conservative and troubled Syria.

On Monday, Amina Omari Abdallah al-Araf, author of the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog, was snatched in broad daylight in Damascus by three armed men.

She was walking with a friend when she was taken from the street and bundled into a car, her cousin Rania Ismail wrote on the blog shortly after she disappeared.

“Amina was seized by three men in their early 20’s,” Ismail wrote. “According to the witness (who does not want her identity known), the men were armed. Amina hit one of them and told the friend to go find her father.

“One of the men then put his hand over Amina’s mouth and they hustled her into a red Dacia Logan with a window sticker of Basel [sic.] Assad.

“The men are assumed to be members of one of the security services or the Baath Party militia. Al-Araf’s present location is unknown and it is unclear if she is in a jail or being held elsewhere in Damascus.”

As of Tuesday al-Araf’s family were in the dark as to here whereabouts. Several online support groups have been created on Facebook and a campaign demanding her release has been launched on Twitter.

Threatened and forced into hiding

As well as being an active gay rights campaigner in Syria, al-Araf has also written articles and poetry (in English) critical of the President Bashar al-Assad’s autocratic Baathist regime.

She shot to fame at the end of April after she penned an emotional account of security forces attempting to arrest her in the middle of the night at her father’s house.

In the post, titled “My father, the hero” the US-born writer described an incident how her father reacted to two security officers who insulted her and threatened to rape her.

Her father managed to intervene and the security men went on their way.

Among other things, the plainclothes officers accused her of being part of a Salafist plot to overthrow the government.

Al-Araf recounts her father’s reaction: "My daughter is a Salafi?" he starts laughing. "Look at her: can't you see that that is ridiculous? She doesn't even cover any more ... and if you have really read even half of what she has written, you know how ridiculous that is.

“When was the last time you heard a Wahhabi, or even someone from the brotherhood say that wearing hijab is the woman's choice only?"

The men, who had no answers to her father’s questions, eventually left empty-handed.

“That night we celebrated this little victory,” she wrote. “They may come back but maybe not.”

‘Not leaving Syria’

But in early May, a second visit from the security services forced al-Araf finally into hiding. She refused to join her mother across the border in Lebanon, insisting she should stay to chronicle the events that continue to rock her native Syria.

Referring to her own father’s refusal to leave the country, she wrote: “When my father says he will not leave until either democracy comes or he is dead, I have no choice but to stay. Not because he is making me, but because he is not making me.”

Much of al-Araf’s poetry refers to the constrictive atmosphere in Syria, as pro-democracy campaigners continue to take to the streets despite the brutal crackdown by the regime.

In one, titled “Bird Songs”, she concludes: “Soaring and flying, Freedom is coming, Here am I wanting, To know it one day.”

Humanitarian organisations believe that in the last three months since the uprising in Syria began, some 10,000 people have been arrested.

Many of these have been the bloggers and citizen journalists who have played such an important role in the “Arab Spring” revolts.

The most famous detained blogger in Syria is Tal al-Mallouhi, who has been held in an undisclosed location since 2009.

Date created : 2011-06-07

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