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Freedom fighters for Syria on campus

Students seek to support Syrian people

Baran al-Isso. Photo by Calum Agnew
Baran al-Isso. Photo by Calum Agnew

They call themselves Justice and Freedom for Syria, and every Sunday up to 50 people gather in Victoria Park on Spring Garden Road to demonstrate against the Assad regime’s violent crackdown in Syria.

They produce a new pamphlet weekly, documenting the crimes of the Baath party regime, and explaining what Canadians can do to help. They distribute nearly 300 of these pamphlets between 2 and 3:30 p.m. each week.

And Justice and Freedom for Syria (JFS) would like to bring their message to the Dalhousie campus.

Hoping “to gain support for the Syrian people seeking dignity, freedom and rule of law,” JFS has been demonstrating since the revolution in Tunisia, says Omar-Baran al-Isso, one of the group’s organizers.

Expatriated Syrians, many of whom fled during the Baath Party’s 42 years in power, have been forming similar organizations around the world. JFS is trying to keep Haligonians engaged in the ongoing uprising in Syria, al-Isso says.

Al-Isso came to Canada in 1995 with his young family after spending 10 years in prison without trial for publishing articles critical of the regime, and for being a member of an outlawed opposition party.

Despite Canada’s call for democratic reform and the imposition of economic sanctions, JFS sees Canada as partially complicit in the regime’s longevity. Suncor, a Calgary-based energy firm operating in both Libya and Syria since the Arab Spring, has been identified by the opposition Syrian National Council as a significant source of revenue for the embattled and increasingly isolated regime.

“The condemnation is not enough,” says al-Isso. “We are looking for action.” He says that interested Canadians should write to their MPs, and that Ottawa should consider expelling Syrian diplomats.

JFS’s project has not been without difficulties. There has been at least one altercation with students who disagree with their protests. Al-Isso believes there are many Syrians in Canada opposed to the uprising.

The Assad regime, for all its failings, has been largely secular. The uncertainty

inherent to a revolution involving a wide range of political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, may be frightening for some, al-Isso says.

He says JFS hopes to set up a display on the Dal campus in the near future. The DSU says they generally make space available for any ratified society that does not violate any human rights acts. Although their displays contain images that are upsetting, they “don’t post the worst” pictures, says al-Isso.

In addition to their displays and demonstrations, JFS is making use of social media sites such as Facebook to receive information from inside Syria, which lacks a free press, and to raise awareness in Canada.

Although there have been numerous uprisings against the Baath Party regime in the past, the scale of the Arab Spring, and the ubiquity of social media should ensure that this is the last, says al-Isso. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that at least 3,000 civilian protesters have been killed in the unrest to date, including nearly 190 children – thousands more protesters are reported missing.

“I believe that the Syrian people’s bill for freedom will be very high,” al-Isso says. He hopes to return to Syria within the next six months.

Calum Agnew
Calum Agnew
Calum was a News Editor of the Gazette for Volume 146 and served as Assistant News Editor for Volume 145.
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