Syrian photojournalist wins “cyber-freedom” award

From Reporters Without Borders, Dec. 8:

The 2005 Reporters Without Borders/Fondation de France prize in the “cyberdissident” category was awarded on 7 December to Massoud Hamid. He was arrested in July 2004 and sentenced to three years in prison for “membership of a secret organisation” after posting photos of a Kurdish demonstration in Syria on a foreign-based website.

One of the very few journalists who have managed to take photographs of a pro-Kurdish demonstration in Syria, which he sent abroad to be posted on a German-based website ( He was punished very harshly.

The 29-year-old journalism student was arrested on 24 July 2004 as he was taking an exam at Damascus University.

After a mockery of a trial, the state security court sentenced him on 10 October 2004 to three years in prison for “belonging to a secret organisation” and “trying to annex part of Syria to another country.”

He is being held in Adra prison, in suburban Damascus. Former prisoners say he has been in solitary confinement for a year and has been tortured several times, including being beaten on the soles of his feet with a studded whip. His feet are now completely paralysed and he has dizziness and back problems. He is not allowed to wear glasses, which has badly damaged his sight.

Syria has no free or independent media and people depend on the government papers, radio and TV stations, which obediently relay official propaganda. President Bashar al-Assad, more internationally isolated than ever since the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, continues to keep a tight grip on all news through prior censorship by the ruling Baath Party’s secret service. Resident foreign journalists are closely watched and rarely given accreditation.

Syria, “enemy of the Internet”

Syria is one of 15 countries classed as “enemies of the Internet�? by Reporters Without Borders in November 2005, along with the likes of China, Cuba, Iran and Turkmenistan. The authorities censor independent news websites and opposition publications, especially those that are pro-Kurdish or pro-Israeli. Online material is also monitored for criticism of the regime and Internet users who defy the official line are threatened and sometimes imprisoned.

The state-run post office and Syrian Computer Society (SCS) are the country’s only Internet service providers (ISPs). Home connections are only allowed for people such as doctors, lawyers and businessmen who can prove they need them for professional reasons. The SCS decides who gets connected.

An Internet user was sentenced in 2003 to two and a half years in prison just for e-mailing a newsletter considered illegal by the regime.

See our last posts on Syria and the Kurdish struggle.