Syrian Activist Dodges Authorities On Streets, Online Mohammed Feezo, a Syrian cyber-activist who brought his family to southeastern Turkey, says the Internet allowed opponents of the Assad regime to follow the examples of Tunisia and Egypt. But "even if they cut the Internet in the whole country," he predicts, "the protests will continue."
NPR logo

Syrian Activist Dodges Authorities On Streets, Online

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/137241329/137241315" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Syrian Activist Dodges Authorities On Streets, Online

Syrian Activist Dodges Authorities On Streets, Online

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/137241329/137241315" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

This morning, we'll hear the story of one man who's worked to galvanize opposition in Syria. He recently fled to Turkey with his family, where he met NPR's Peter Kenyon.

PETER KENYON: Feezo was born to a Sunni Muslim family in the northern town of Jisr al- Shughour, the scene of last week's military crackdown by loyalist forces. In the 1980s his family relocated to the coastal city of Latakia, where he came face to face with the discrimination that favored the Allawite regime and its supporters. He also came to know the reach and power of Syria's dreaded Mukhabarat, the secret police. He says he criticized Syria's involvement in Lebanon in a discussion in a coffee shop one day, and soon found himself under arrest.

MOHAMMED FEEZO: (Through translator) I was 24 when I was first arrested. It was horrible. They put me in a basement interrogation room. But they didn't even want information. Their way is just to humiliate you. That's why now I use my real name. It's a kind of revenge, just to show that I'm not intimidated.

KENYON: After being detained several times, Feezo decided that since the regime was determined to treat him as an adversary, he might as well get involved in the opposition. At first he came up against the same problem all critics of the regime faced - how to communicate in the face of a highly-evolved domestic spying apparatus that caused Syrians to adopt the saying, don't even talk to yourself, they'll hear you. But then about five years ago, he discovered the Internet and it opened a new world of possibilities.

FEEZO: (Through translator) I started using the Internet, and I discovered it wasn't really on their radar. For instance, when they would detain me they would never ask me about anything I had written on the Internet.

KENYON: He says gradually other Syrians began to realize that there was a certain measure of virtual freedom to be had online.

FEEZO: (Through translator) In the beginning, any discussion I had felt like people on the other end were still afraid, afraid to speak out. But then we began to realize the government can't really monitor six million Internet users, so people began to get more brave, and I turned my Facebook page into a page with opposition comments.

KENYON: Three months and more than a thousand dead later, he believes the true number is much higher, Feezo is grappling with the downsides of Internet freedom, the danger of forged documents being planted by the regime or their sites being infiltrated or hacked. He knows the government is adapting to the new reality of Internet-driven protest, just as the demonstrations are. But he believes the movement has reached a critical mass that can't be stopped.

FEEZO: (Through translator) Yes, I think it's unstoppable. The government can affect it by cutting the Internet. But at the end, the Internet is just a networking tool. It's the people in the streets who make the difference. Even if they cut the Internet in the whole country, the protests will continue.

KENYON: Peter Kenyon, NPR News, near the Turkish-Syrian border.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.