The public humiliation of peaceful activists through forced confessions on public television is one more way the Syrian regime punishes dissidents. Since the early days of the revolution, confessions great and small, believable and bizarre were broadcast on Syrian state-controlled television networks to both confuse the opposition and shore up the support of the regime. In the latest round of confessions the Kafkaesque reality of Syria is on full display when one of the detainees confesses to raising a banner that read: “All are equal under the law.”
The Story of Maryam Hayed
Maryam Hayed, a volunteer in the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), was part of the group that was paraded on national television last week. Alongside journalist Shiyar Khalil, and visual artist Hazem Waked, they “confessed” to spreading false information, acting on orders of foreign powers and, to rub salt in their wounds, smoking hashish. All the images and motifs incessantly parroted by the regime since the first day of the uprising were on full, and cruel, display that evening.
Everyone who knew Hayed, a fifth-year student of psychology, said that she had no direct link with the uprising. She did not take part in any demonstrations, nor in any of the campaigns organized by activists in Damascus. Hayed’s main mission was to devote herself to humanitarian work by volunteering with the SARC. Nevertheless, this had no bearing on her treatment by the regime.
Hayed and Waked were arrested at a house in Dummar on Januray 13, 2014. Her arrest came as a response to her cousin, Maisa al-Saleh, defecting and fleeing the country.
One of Hayed’s friends, in an interview with Syria Untold, says of her arrest: “I could understand when the regime forces someone they know to be active in the revolution to dole out confessions like this, but to do it to someone who’s had no participation at all is absolute madness. How do you arrest, and humiliate, a woman who decided to devote her work to the SARC?”
Response and Resistance
Activists have long since been aware of the devastating effects of such public humiliation on both the individuals themselves, and their community at large. After every such cruel demonstration activists attempt to organize solidarity campaigns that can offer solace for the detainee’s family and resist the regime’s attempts to tarnish their reputations. This time the first responses came from activists from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights: “We believe your eyes and hearts. We believe your free spirits, and we know…”
Posters, graffiti and paintings have been posted in support of the group. The aim is to turn their cause into one of public opinion by debunking the regime’s narrative through evidence. After all, the battle is one of conflicting narratives: the one that the regime tries to impose through violence and suppression of the other, against the overwhelming evidence of the abuses against anyone who stands with human rights.