Gay Girl in Damascus Blogger Reportedly Seized in Syria
Editor's note: Scroll down for more updates to this breaking story.
I received some very troubling news today when I read that Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari, who blogs at A Gay Girl in Damascus as Amina Abdallah, has been detained in Syria, according to her family. We featured her very brave blog in late April, and I feel she is part of the BlogHer family.
Amina was detained Monday and her whereabouts are still unknown, according to her cousin, Rania Ismail, who has been posting to her blog. Ismail reported yesterday that Amina was seized by three men, who she says "are assumed to be members of one of the security services or the Baath Party militia," on the streets of Damascus. She posted today that "it is unclear if she is in a jail or being held elsewhere in Damascus."
Amina has been blogging about being an out lesbian and the Syrian protest movement since February 2011. She has been openly critical of President Bashar al-Assad. One of her most recent posts, dated June 6, 2011, talks about the violent "Naksa Day" clashes on June 5. It reads in part:
Every Syrian knows that; every Syrian knows that Traitor of the Naksa’s second son is President and that another runs his squads of killers. Every Syrian knows that Bashar has never lifted a finger to redeem Jaulan.
Jaulan is Arabic for Golan.
(© Wang Dongdong/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com)
The New York Times' blog, The Lede, Robert Mackey and Liam Stack report that Amina is 36 and holds dual Syrian and American citizenship:
A State Department spokesman told The Lede: “Officials in Damascus and Washington are working to ascertain more information about Ms. Arraf, including confirmation of her citizenship.”.
The post we featured on BlogHer was called My Father, The Hero. Amina told a riveting story of how her father stood up to two armed men who came to her house in the middle of the night and accused her of "Conspiring against the state, urging armed uprising, working with foreign elements." He convinced them to leave without her.
Katherine Marsh (the pseudonym of a Guardian reporter working anonymously in Syria) reported about Amina's family situation a week after the incident in April:
Having family members in high places and dual nationality has, as some blog comments have pointed out, made her more able to speak. But on Wednesday Abdullah and her elderly father went into hiding in separate places after the security forces came round again. She has refused to go to Beirut with her mother, and is blogging when she can, moving from house to house with a bag of belongings.
Ismail reported yesterday that Amina's father "is not worried about being in hiding and says he will do anything he can to free her" if she is in custody.
Amina's supporters are tweeting using the hashtag #FreeAmina, and urging people to like the Free Amina Facebook page to raise awareness of the blogger's situation. Supporters can also sign a "Free Amina" petition.
Whatever your spiritual inclinations, we're asking to please keep Amina in your thoughts and pray/meditate for her safe return. Nobody should ever be terrorized for who they are, and Amina is one of those fiercely intelligent women we all strive to emulate.
UPDATE, 6/7 3:30 PM:
NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin and a few other people are requesting that anyone who has met Amina in person:
@shoofs It's just odd that I can't find anyone who has actually met her in person. Some people have raised questions so I'm investigating.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet ReplyAndy Carvin
@shoofs I wish it were that simple. All I want to do is talk to someone who knows her in person, or has pics. It's my job to do this.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet ReplyAndy Carvin
Carvin reports that he has received questions about Amina's existence from several independent Syrian sources; that he has verified that news sources who had communicated with Amina have all been through e-mail. He notes:
So where does this leave us? I still have many more questions than answers, but I currently believe Amina is a real person, but one who is much more expressive about herself online than offline.
UPDATE, 6/8, 1 PM PT
More questions have arisen today about Amina Arraf:
- The Times reported yesterday about Sandra Bagaria, "the one person who has identified herself — to The Times, the BBC and Al Jazeera — as a personal friend of the blogger," stated that she's never met the blogger in person.
- The Wall Street Journal reports on the Facebook photos posted as Amina Arraf were actually press photos of another woman, Jelena Lecic, who lives in London.
- Esther Addley and Nidaa Hasaan at Guardian report that Angela Williams, of the U.S. embassy in Damascus, told them that " US officials had not been able to confirm any of the details in the blog, and had no records of someone of that name living in Damascus."
- Andy Carvin tweeted today that he hasn't been able to locate records of Amina in the U.S.:
- BlogHer's Liz Henry wrote an incredibly insightful post on her personal blog, saying, "If this is a hoax, I feel for everyone involved whose emotions were brought to a pitch and who stepped up to try and support Amina Araf. It also must be really infuriating for the LGBT people actually in Syria and for many other activists and bloggers who have been detained for their online writing."
AP searched for her and her family in Staunton, VA. We've searched public databases for Georgia and elsewhere. No luck so far. #Aminaless than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet ReplyAndy Carvin
Keep checking her blog for updates and we'll keep you posted here as well. If you have information about Amina, please let us know and we'll help you get it out.
BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns; Section Editor, LIFE; Proprietor, ClizBiz