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Opinion: Assad’s regime showed its true face in Geneva | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, speaks to members of the media outside the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 28 January 2014. (EPA/VALENTIN FLAURAUD)

Question: What do you do with your detainees? What does the Syrian government do with its detainees?

Answer: Sorry, I didn’t hear you properly.

Question: What do you do with your detainees? Do they end up looking like emaciated Belsen [Nazi concentration camp] victims? Do you gouge out their eyes and eventually kill them?

Answer: We have been trying in Syria to stop this terrorism coming to our country, and we have been trying to convince the international community that it is very important to have the will to stop this . . . extremist thinking.

There’s no need to go through the rest of the interview that Britain’s Sky News conducted with Bouthaina Shaaban, the Syrian president’s advisor. During the interview, journalist Anna Botting put firm questions to Shaaban about the regime’s actions and did not tolerate her attempts to evade answering them.

Shaaban literally repeated the same statements during the several interviews she gave while participating in the Geneva talks on Syria. Her statements didn’t answer the question.

All the murder and terror is the responsibility of the gunmen and terrorists, and the motive is a massive colonial conspiracy that aims to harm Syria, Shaaban claims.

She’s the same Bouthaina Shaaban who weeks ago told us that the chemical massacre in Damascus was committed by the Syrian opposition, that it was also the opposition who transferred men, women and children from Latakia’s towns to the outskirts of Damascus to poison them with gas.

There’s no use trying to find the funny side or even discussing this kind of logic. Let’s go back to the question. What does the Syrian regime do with its detainees? Isn’t this the key question which all the facts have revolved around for years now?

The answer used to be whispered to us in stories we heard frequently. Then we heard them via diaries and testimonies. After the revolution came leaked footage and videos. We finally got the answer from more than 55,000 documents on 11,000 victims, some of which were leaked by one of the jailors.

We then understood what it means for a person to be a detainee of the Syrian regime. Starvation, gouged-out eyes, and death through the worst methods of torture, turning the victims into just another number buried far away without anyone’s knowledge.

Syrians, as citizens or media workers, cannot ask their regime and its representatives questions like those put to Bouthaina Shaaban. Independent media is forbidden in Syria. But what the Syrians can’t do in their own country, they did at Geneva.

They protested in front of the hotel where the Syrian delegation was staying, and they were not subject to gunfire or detention from the security forces. They pursued the regime officials and held their microphones in front of them, asking them about torture and [the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group] the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The Syrian information minister and the rest of the delegation members had no other choice other than to swiftly walk away and hide in their car to avoid the questions. Regime supporters and some of its media thugs were there too, and they attempted to do what they do best: beating up the regime’s opponents. Not only that, but they also mocked the shelling of some Syrian areas with explosive barrels.

Despite that, the Syrian regime delegation in Geneva was forced to confront questions, criticism, protests and cameras. In Geneva, they could not prevent the media from carrying out its job and could not prevent cameras from rolling. They could not arrest journalists or pluck out their eyes.

In Geneva, a confrontation between the Syrian regime and the Syrian media happened for the first time before the western media. It is in Geneva that the Syrian regime was subject to the pure gaze of public opinion for the first time. The regime seemed fragile and incapable of speaking. It appeared weak and unconvincing.

The regime’s fall in Geneva will pave the way for its fall in Damascus.