Syrian In Exile Writes On Despite Threats, Kidnappings

This weekend marks the third anniversary of the Syrian uprising. For perspective, NPR's Jacki Lyden speaks with Yassin Haj Saleh, a Syrian writer who spent 16 years in Syrian prisons.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

This weekend marks the third anniversary of the Syrian uprising. We wanted to get some perspective on what that means for Syrians both inside their country and out. So we've managed to reach Yassin Haj Saleh, a Syrian writer who spent 16 years in Syrian prisons and now lives in partial hiding to escape the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Yassin, thank you so much for joining us.

YASSIN HAJ SALEH: You're welcome.

LYDEN: Could you please begin by explaining your relationship to Syria now after three years of fighting? When did you leave the country all together?

SALEH: I left Syria in October. I was obliged to leave for two years and a half. I was living in Syria after the uprising, two years in hiding in Damascus.

LYDEN: I understand that your wife, Samira al Khalil, an activist, was kidnapped about three months ago. Do you know anything about where she might be?

SALEH: Samira is a former political prisoner also. For four years she was kidnapped with Razan Zaytuna, the famous activist, and we don't have any information about group that kidnap them or anything about their fate.

LYDEN: So your wife isn't the only family member, as I understand it, who has been kidnapped in the last year. Your younger brother went missing seven months ago from your hometown of Raqqa in Syria. What do you know about your brother's fate?

SALEH: Nothing at all, sorry to say. All we know that in July, 2013 he was kidnapped in the street with a friend of his and we are sure that ISIS is the group that kidnapped them. ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

LYDEN: How do you deal with this, deal with someone so close to you missing?

SALEH: I don't know. In fact, I don't know. I feel at times that I am like my mother when I was in prison in 1980s. Three of my mother's sons, myself included, were in prison for years. And then my mother died when three of us were in prison, so I feel that I am like her, like many other people who their beloved in prison for long time.

LYDEN: How do you feel about Syria now? What do you think the future looks like?

SALEH: First of all, I am not nostalgic to the country. Perhaps I am angry more than anything else now. I am now 53 and I cannot hate my country because this will make all my life meaningless, but I'm angry and I'm trying to find a way to express this anger in a creative way and to help other people to cherish some hope for our future.

LYDEN: Yassin Haj Saleh is the author of four books about Syria, including "Salvation Boys: Sixteen Years in Syrian Prisons." Yassin Haj Saleh, thanks for speaking with us.

SALEH: Thank you very much, Jacki.

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LYDEN: You're listening to NPR News.

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