Sisters Maisa and Samar Saleh vs. regime forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

19 August 2013

On April 23, Syrian activist Maisa Saleh was arrested by regime forces in the Saruja market, in the heart of Damascus. She is known for her active participation in peaceful protests and civil disobedience initiatives. On August 8, her sister Samar was detained in the area of Tahuna, Aleppo, for demanding a civil state and equality for all citizens, this time at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a group that has taken grip of power in several areas liberated from the regime.

The detentions sparked anger among activists, who see how defenders of freedom and human rights are increasingly prosecuted not only by the Assad dictatorship, but also by the new self-appointed rulers who are using the vacuum left to impose their own agendas. "Freedom to Maysa and Samar, and shame on all the kings of oppression and darkness,” activist Mays Qat shared on Facebook. Members of the political opposition such as Rima Fleihan, from the Syrian National Coalition, also condemned the arrests.

Human rights activist Maisa Saleh, arrested by regime forces in Damascus on April 23, 2013. Photo used with permission.

Both sisters are known for demanding a civil state for Syria, and for defending women´s rights as part of the struggle against oppression. They have been involved in civil disobedience initiatives since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011, including humanitarian relief and assistance to families in need.

Human rights activist Samar Saleh, arrested by the ISIL in Aleppo on August 8, 2013. Photo used with permission.

According to an activist from the area of Aleppo who spoke to Syria Untold, the tactics used by the ISIL are frighteningly similar to those of the regime. "The first thing they did to Samar was force her to share her social networks account information so they could surveil her activity and find who her friends and contacts were," he explained.

The detentions have also sparked questioning of the role of the political opposition, which has failed to prevent chaos and impunity in the areas left by the regime. The vacuum that has been created is being used by extremist groups such as the Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant. "Isn´t this a product of the inaction of the Coalition?", activist from Sweida Thaer Kurbaj asked Flehan. "Where is Father Paolo, and all other activists who have disappeared in Raqqa?"

Both Maysa and Samar´s tireless work, and their arrests, remind Syrians of the need to continue to defend freedom and justice regardless of who is in power. The Syrian revolution, as it has become increasingly clear, is a process that will not end with the overthrow of the regime.

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Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad