Syria: Urgent appeal to Free Ali Shihabi

Note by the Editor: We have been asked to publish this article by the Palestinian blogger Budour Hassan. We do so since we whole-hearted support this appeal.

 

By Budour Hassan

 

On 7 April, 2013, the Day of the Syrian political Prisoner, Syrian activists launched an online campaign titled “Behind Bars but Free” to highlight the cases of tens of thousands of detainees languishing in Syrian regime dungeons. Palestinian refugees in Syria had their fair share of persecution and detention. Activists in Syria made a short YouTubE video in an attempt at raising attention to their plight.

Ali Shihabi, a Palestinian-Syrian writer, communist political activist and former political prisoner, is among several Palestinian prisoners featured in the video along with software developer Bassel Khartabil, engineering student Salma Abdel-Razzaq, and others.

Shihabi has been detained by the Syrian regime since December 2012. The Centre for the Documentation of Violations in Syria (VDC) has expressed concern over the fate of Shihabi, whose whereabouts remain unknown. Several prominent opposition figures in Syria, including Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Khawla Dunia, Ammar Dayoub, among others, called for his release and tried to shed light on his case by writing about him on Facebook. In addition, a Facebook page calling for his release was launched following his arrest and it has over 600 fans.

Born in 1955 in the Palestinian refugee camp, Yarmouk, Ali Shihabi worked as an English language teacher in UNRWA-run schools and founded al-Khayam institute of education in the camp. Hisham Za’ouqi, a former student at Shihabi’s English class, wrote on his Facebook page: “I asked him{Shihabi] once: ‘Teacher, Why is your hair so long?’ He replied with a smile: ‘Tomorrow is the Palestinian Land Day. There is a protest in Yarmouk Camp if you would like to come’. Ali Sa’id al-Shihabi: a complete revolution.”

Shihabi has a long and painful history with political persecution and arrests by the Syrian regime, both under Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad’s reign. He was arrested for the first time in 1975, spending almost a year in jail, and continued his political activism after his release. He was arrested again in 1982 and sentenced to nine years in prison after being convicted of membership in the banned Communist Labour Party (Hizb Al-'Amal Al-Shuyu'iy; also known as the "Party for Communist Action"). Following his release, he published two major books, “The New Structure of the World” and “Where is Syria Heading.” In addition, he wrote numerous editorials and studies for several left-wing publications.

Inspired by the lived “Damascus Spring”, a short-lived reform movement initiated by left-wing and liberal Syrian intellectuals during the beginning of this century, Shihabi wrote a draft that was not published about the need for gradual and peaceful democratic transition in Syria, based on secularism, the rejection of sectarianism and the promotion of civil liberties. In the draft, he also proposed the establishment of a new political movement called “Syria for all” which led to his third arrest in 2006. He was severely tortured and charged with “founding an opposition party”.

Married with two sons, Shihabi was among the leftist intellectuals who vehemently supported the Syrian uprising from its start. He also helped organise humanitarian aid in Yarmouk camp.

Ironically, Shihabi was arrested by the notorious military intelligence branch ”Palestine.” For only in Assad’s Syria are Palestinians – and Syrians - imprisoned and tortured by “Palestine.”

 

Budour Hassan, originally from Nazareth, is a Palestinian blogger and Law graduate based in Jerusalem