At the Oslo Freedom Forum over the years, I have met many democracy activists and dissidents from all over the world. I think I am most impressed with the Syrians, along with the North Koreans. When I see the Syrians in Norway, I can’t believe they are going back — going back to Syria. But they do, and they would not want to be anywhere else. They dodge death every day.
I encountered one such Syrian in 2017. He was Raed Fares, a journalist, and he was murdered on Friday along with another democracy activist, Hamoud Jneed. Apparently, the murderers have not been identified, precisely. But Fares, Jneed, et al. are working against the Assad dictatorship, al-Qaeda, ISIS — all of them. Does it matter, precisely?
To read a report in the Guardian about the murders, go here. I will quote one passage, concerning Raed Fares: “The offices of the civil society organisation he founded had been bombed by Assad and raided by Isis. Fares himself was targeted by assassins in 2014 and barely escaped with his life. He was arrested by al-Qaida, kidnapped and tortured, before being released.”
When I wrote about him in a journal last year, I said that he had cited Orwell and Animal Farm. It’s amazing how many dissidents do this. No matter where they live or what language they speak or who their dictator is, they see that Orwell has analyzed their situation perfectly (whether in Animal Farm or 1984).
In my journal, I gave a flavor of Raed Fares, who said, “Assad will continue to murder, but we’ll keep going until our dream comes true: a free and democratic Syria for all.”
The Human Rights Foundation in New York, which hosts the Oslo Freedom Forum, has put out a statement — an article, really. It quotes Garry Kasparov, the chess champion and human-rights champion who serves as chairman of the foundation. “Raed was killed because his work mattered,” Kasparov said. “He was laying the groundwork for a democracy with his own two hands, creating a civil society from rubble and giving power back to survivors of war.”
In this article (as I’m calling it), HRF says, “Fares was dedicated to teaching his fellow Syrians the skills they would need to build Syria’s democracy. He founded Radio Fresh out of Kafranbel in 2013 to give Syrians a source for unbiased reporting, working to counter fundamentalist narratives and the Assad regime’s propaganda. Radio Fresh trained more than 2,500 students in journalism, and employed more than 600 people.”
Finally, I’d like to quote Abdalaziz Alhamza, another Syrian journalist, whom HRF also quotes: “Assad, ISIS, and al-Qaeda feared Raed, so they all tried to silence him. While he could have made the choice to leave Syria and escape their threats, he decided to stay and fight them, armed with his radio and his words. Raed may be gone, but his soul and bravery will always remain with us …”
Truly, I am in awe of Raed Fares and his like.