Why You Should Watch This: Last week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that over 2600 people have died as a consequence of repression of protests in Syria. The Syrian government claims that far fewer have died, and that the balance is split between government forces and armed protestors.
In this climate of official denial, the actions of the Attorney General of the province of Hama, Mohammed Adnan al-Bakkour stand out for his courage in challenging the official story from within the system. In a video released on YouTube he publicly submits his resignation, explaining that he knows that 72 prisoners were executed in Hama on July 31, that mass graves contain over 420 bodies, and that he had been forced to falsely issue a report saying that these people had been killed by armed gangs, not security forces. He states that 10,ooo people have been arrested, and he is aware of the death by torture of 320 people. He ends by naming those directly responsible in Syria’s security forces.
Unofficial transcript here.
- Title of Video: Variants on “The Attorney General of Hama announcing his resignation” posted and re-shared in multiple channels on YouTube and elsewhere.
- Date Created/Posted: August 31, 2011 with a rat-a-tat-tat of re-postings and then follow-ups from official sources and activists
- Length: 2:47 minutes
- Who made it: Unknown activists in Syria (although the Syrian regime claims that the video was created under coercion – there is no way to corroborate this statement)
- Location: Syria
- Human Rights Issue: Extrajudicial killings and torture
Goal: With this video, the Attorney-General challenges the official story of what is happening to protestors in Syria with the bare, unvarnished facts.
Primary Audience: The Attorney-General makes a public resignation, reading from a piece of paper. Since the video was released on YouTube and shared with Al-Jazeera he clearly intends his whistle-blowing to reach the broadest audience possible within the country and internationally.
Message: These are the facts that the Syrian regime is covering up in regard to torture, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests. These are the people responsible.
Content/Style/Voices: The direct, basic style of this video – he is in an anonymous office – does not detract from its power as witnessing. In fact, its simplicity appears to add credibility.
Did you know?: After this video was released and began to circulate, the Syrian government released a video in which the official’s driver claimed that the Attorney-General had been kidnapped. Subsequently Mr. Adnan al-Bakkour released a follow-up video challenging these claims and reinforcing his original “whistle-blowing.” This pattern of using YouTube and citizen media to challenge official denial or the official spin was something we discussed on this blog in relation to Ahmad Bayasi, who spoke out about violence in his town. As of September 6, news reports had Mr. al-Bakkour attempting to cross into Turkey when his group was attacked by Syrian government forces.
One Syrian TV channel has subsequently claimed that Al-Jazeera (where the Attorney General’s video first received wide exposure) has constructed giant sets of Syrian cities to fake footage, including of defections by Syrian army members (see more discussion of this story on The New York Times‘ Lede blog).
Suggested Resources: To follow citizen sources around the situation in Syria visit Ahmed Al Omran’s curated Storifys on Syria; YouTube’s CitizenTube; the regular curation and aggregation of social media on Storyful; or Crowdvoice. Arabic language updates are regularly posted on the Syrian Revolution Facebook page. For regular updates on the claims and counter-claims on number of deaths look at the Al-Jazeera death toll live blog.
Join the Conversation: This video is one of the most dramatic examples of officials speaking out from within the system to reveal injustice. This tactic has most often been used by those revealing corruption. In Russia, a courageous police officer in a provincial town spoke out against corruption in the police there (you can learn more about other examples of transparency activism more broadly here and in this PDF).
Have you seen good examples of insiders using video to speak out against the system or to expose human rights violations? How could we encourage people to use video to give their testimonies from inside the system? Could we use visual anonymization technologies like the SecureSmartCam to enable officials to speak out without revealing who they are, or would this undercut the value of the information they share and their status as insiders?