By Siebe Aanbeek
On a day of rage in the Kingdom of Silence, an old man spoke up. After the Friday prayers he made his way forward through the worshippers gathered at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and raised his voice: “My sons are prisoners – I have not seen them for many years. I want their freedom!” After a thunderous silence a clamour of protest arose. The spark that ignited the Arab revolution had spread to Syria. Rami Jarrah was there too; four days later he became Alexander Page.
It was March 2011. In the weeks leading up to the protest in the mosque, Rami Jarrah’s hopes had been raised by small demonstrations in the south of the country. He had planned to leave Syria for a more peaceful country, but perhaps the silence that had frustrated him so was about to end. He no longer wanted to return to England or Dubai, where he had studied, but decided instead to stay.
After the old man had spoken out at the mosque, the Syrian people started expressing their dissatisfaction openly. Across the nation, people began to lose their fear. So too in Damascus, under the very nose of President Bashar Al-Assad who until then had been inviolable. Rami Jarrah, who graduated in journalism and knows the Internet well, decided to join a group of civil journalists. He started collecting reports on the increasing unrest and published them on social media and blogs.
Four days after the man in the mosque raised his voice, Rami took part in a demonstration in the heart of Damascus. The government cracked down on the demonstrators with an iron fist. Nine people were shot and several dozen arrested before his eyes. That evening the media approached the group of citizen journalists and asked them to report on the incidents. Rami Jarrah, fluent in English and endowed with a British accent, was put forward. Hiding behind a name he had just found on the internet, his voice was broadcast across the world for the first time. Alexander Page was born.
Rami, as Alexander Page, became the voice of the Syrian opposition. But because the major news channels also wanted image coverage, he was asked increasingly to record the unrest on his iPhone. Within a week he was arrested while filming, stripped to his boxers and thrown into a cell. He was denied food and water for three days, had to remain standing and was repeatedly beaten. It was only after admitting – under duress – to being a ‘terrorist’ that he was released.
A full-time job
The maelstrom of Rami’s life intensified. Shortly after his release the import company he worked for ordered him to participate in a pro-government demonstration. He refused and handed in his notice. But although Rami Jarrah was now unemployed, Alexander Page had a full-time job.
He was arrested again after a new demonstration. This time he wore a portable 3G router under his clothes which gave the demonstrators Internet access. He managed to avoid being arrested by the policemen who halted him only to be harassed two days later, when a group of men waiting for him outside his house beat him up. He was to keep quiet, they threatened, or else he would suffer the consequences. It seemed the true identity of Alexander Page was known to the authorities.
At 4 a.m. that night a friend with connections in the secret service called him and confirmed that his name was on the ‘Alexander Page’ file. Two hours later Rami Jarrah fled to Jordan with his wife and child.
Activist News Association
In 2012 the uprising in Syria became a bloody civil war. Rami Jarrah, now supported by Hivos, continues his opposition to the Syrian regime from a safe apartment in Cairo. Surrounded by screens showing wrecked streets, streams of refugees and ongoing protest, he works as a full-time activist.
Nothing escapes the watchful eyes of Rami Jarrah and the staff of his Activist News Association (ANA). All the crimes committed by president Assad against his people are documented by his Syrian network and stored safely in Cairo. It is a vast repository of text, photographs and videos, neatly labelled and classified and taking up ever more server space. When the tyrant is finally brought to a tribunal or criminal court, he will not be able to deny his crimes against humanity. Then, even Assad will realise that silence can no longer be enforced.
You can also follow ANA on Twitter.