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Murdered teenager becomes symbol of Syrian uprising

3 min

Hamza al-Khatib, a 13-year-old Syrian boy who disappeared following an anti-government protest in late April, appeared to have been brutally tortured before his death. Pictures have added fat to the fire in the ongoing Syrian revolt.


Hamza al-Khatib was missing for a month after he was arrested by Syrian security forces on April 29. His parents received his mutilated body last Wednesday after signing a government form saying they would bury him immediately.

But before his burial, video footage of the 13-year-old Syrian’s bruised and bullet-ridden body was posted on YouTube (warning, this video contains extremely graphic images).

Activists on Facebook site Syrian Revolution 2011 allege that Hamza - who disappeared after protests in the flashpoint Deraa region - had been subjected to a horrifying litany of violence. The YouTube footage includes shocking images of the young boy’s broken head and bruised body covered with cigarette burns and bullet holes.

“There were a few bullets in his body used as a way to torture rather than kill him,” the group’s founders write. “Clear signs of severe physical abuse appeared on the body, such as marks made with hands, sticks, and shoes. Hamza’s penis was also cut off.”

By Monday the group, titled “We are all Hamza al-Khatib, the child martyr”, had attracted more than 50,000 members (the English version had almost 5,000) since its creation on Saturday.

Facebook user Wesso Messo posted the message: “We are all Hamza al-Khatib, and we all dream of freedom. Today, because of Hamza, we will achieve this freedom with determination and will. We will not let Hamza’s blood, and that of other martyrs, flow in vain.”

Whereas earlier street protests had mostly been limited to Friday, this time demonstrations over Hamza's killing took place across Syria throughout the weekend - in a sign that the boy’s death may be providing the protest movement with new momentum.

Activists said at least 15 people were killed over the weekend, with many more wounded. The UN on Monday called the latest crackdown “shocking”.

Since the start of the unrest, the Syrian regime has denied visas to foreign journalists, so reports of arrests, killings and the size of demonstrations cannot be independently verified.

Police brutality ‘at the heart’ of uprising

Torture and violent death at the hands of Syria’s security serviceshave been widely documented, but what sets Hamza’s killing aside is his age, and the apparent willingness of the state to inflict brutality on children.

Indeed, Syria’s uprising, which has so far claimed at least 1,500 civilian lives according to rights groups, was in part ignited by the arrest (and subsequent release) of children for spraying pro-revolution graffiti in Deraa.

Nadim Houry, the head Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher for Syria and Lebanon, said it was impossible to gauge how far Hamza’s death would inspire the future of the rebellion.

“What’s at the heart of all this is police brutality,” he said. “It is police brutality that started [the Syrian uprising] and HRW wants an investigation into this killing.”

By taking Hamza al-Khatib's name as its title, the eponymous Facebook group is following in the footsteps of pro-democracy movements that inspired the ultimately successful revolts of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia.

We are all Khaled Said” - again on Facebook - is a group dedicated to the memory of a young man brutally killed, allegedly by police officers, in Alexandria, Egypt.

The media attention proved to be one of the sparks that bought thousands out into the streets demanding - and ultimately bringing about - the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

The Tunisian uprising also had its symbol, Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor who set himself alight after officials confiscated his wares, and whose death in December 2010 was the catalyst for the fall of the first despotic regime to crumble in the “Arab Spring” revolts.


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