Since protestors first braved the wrath of Syria’s security services five weeks ago, first on a “Day of Rage,” and then to demand the release of political prisoners, I have tried to keep a close eye on the Syrian people’s attempts to emulate their neighbors in Tunisia and Egypt, where the revolutionary impulses sweeping the Middle East first manifested themselves to devastating effect in January and February.
After those first protests in Damascus — by human rights activists, and the relatives of political prisoners, many of them Kurdish — protests erupted across the country, and have continued ever since, despite an often brutal response by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
By Independence Day last Sunday, when there were renewed protests, around 200 people had been killed, and on Friday, the bloodiest day to date led to the deaths of at least 76 more, and possibly over a hundred, revealing that, despite al-Assad’s recent concessions — finally lifting the state of emergency, in place since 1963, abolishing the security court, and appointing new governors in Latakia, Homs and Deraa — nothing can prevent the calls for regime change from increasing.

Two members of Syria’s parliament from Deraa, where violence first flared a month ago, also resigned in protest. The first, Nasser al-Hariri, told al-Jazeera Arabic TV, “I can’t protect my people when they get shot at, so I resign from parliament,” and he was followed, just minutes later, by Khalil al-Rifae, also from Deraa, who resigned while the TV cameras were still present.

Anyone in doubt that the Ba’athist regime in Syria is a monstrous violator of human rights should recall how the government has responded to dissent, both through the violent suppression of protest, and the imprisonment and torture of political prisoners.

In March, speaking of the former, Nadim Houry, a Human Rights Watch researcher based in Lebanon, told Al-Jazeera, “The groups who have mobilized in the past in Syria for any kind of popular protest have paid a very heavy price — Kurds back in 2004 when they had their uprising in Qamishli and Islamists in the early 1980s, notably in the Massacre of Hama, in February 1982.” As I added, “On that dreadful occasion, the Syrian army bombarded the town of Hama to suppress a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood, and murdered at least 20,000 people, and possibly as many as 40,000, in an act described by the author Robin Wright as being possibly ‘the single deadliest act by any Arab government against its own people in the modern Middle East.’”

Regarding torture, I described Syria’s role as a venue for receiving “terror suspects” seized in the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” — in which Canada was also complicit — for a major UN report on secret detention that was published last year (PDF, and see here for a cross-post of the section that features Syria). This was only the most recent manifestation of a dire problem that has plagued the Syrian people for decades, examples of which can be found in the 1995 Amnesty International report, “Syria: Repression and impunity: the forgotten victims,” the 2001 report, “Syria: Torture, despair and dehumanization in Tadmur Military Prison” (PDF) a 2007 report on the arbitrary nature of sentences handed down by the Supreme State Security Court (PDF), and this report (a briefing to the UN Committee Against Torture) from 2010.

To specifically highlight the current situation in Syria, I wanted to draw readers’ attention to one event out of many that perfectly captures the repressive nature of life in Syria and the reasons why it is legitimate to regard regime change as the only viable way out of brutal, institutionlaized repression: a profile of teenage blogger Tal al-Mallouhi, who has been imprisoned for the last 16 months, and is serving a five-year sentence in solitary confinement, simply for writing a blog that expressed a teenage girl’s generalized aspirations for fairness and justice in the world. The article was written for Al-Jazeera by Michele Zackheim, a member of the Freedom to Write Committee of the PEN American Center.