News / Middle East

Syrians Find Innovative Ways to Stay Connected Online

A Syrian techinician works to set a new telephone network in the city of Qusayr, in Syria's central Homs province, Aug. 1, 2013.
A Syrian techinician works to set a new telephone network in the city of Qusayr, in Syria's central Homs province, Aug. 1, 2013.
Michael Scaturro
Since the conflict in Syria began more than two years ago, the country has intermittently plunged into cyber-darkness. But activists in Europe and in Syria are using innovative means to stay online and to stay in touch with loved ones.

Since the civil war began, the nation's weak communications infrastructure has been made worse by government shut-offs aimed at choking the insurgency. 

"After the Revolution, people started using the Internet more intensively," explained Hozan Ibrahim, a Syrian activist who escaped from the country after being tortured by the Assad regime. He's now based in Berlin.

"They wanted to participate. Not in the activism, but to learn about what was going on. The number of Facebook profiles, for example, have doubled three or four times. Same with Skype and e-mail and so on," he noted.

3G

Hozan Ibrahim said 3G is available in some areas under the control of the regime. And, Syrians living along the country's borders with Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon are using 3G networks from those countries to gain access.

Foreign Internet providers have installed more towers on Syria's borders to accommodate the onslaught of new users. Still, access is proving expensive for many Syrians.

"They can't of course use Syrian sim cards. There's no coverage in the majority of the areas, and the roaming costs are expensive. And the problem with Turkish phones or sim cards is that they are only operating on devices that are registered in Turkey. That makes costs double, since people need to buy a new Turkish phone," said Ibrahim.

Surveillance

Government surveillance of cell phones is another problem. But some activists have found a way around this. "Usually activists are buying sim cards with the ID cards of dead people. Or just using the cards of people who aren't there - either emigrated or dead," Ibrahim said.

But Sami Ibrahim (no relation to Hozan) of the Syrian Network for Human Rights said safety is still a major concern for activists like him. He is on the ground in Homs and Damascus, and said the government is hacking his members' cell phones and Internet accounts. "Our servers are attacked every two or three days by Iranian technology or by sources in Russia," he explained. "We are able to protect our servers. But sometimes our servers are hanged - we are unable to send information. But we have good technology."

Cyber attacks

Lama Fakih of Human Rights Watch in Lebanon said her group's servers have also been attacked. "There clearly have been cyber attacks that have been initiated from outside of Syria. Human Rights Watch has also been subject to these attacks, as has been well reported. I can't confirm though whether there have been attacks originating from Iran or in Russia," added Fakih.

Sami Ibrahim said one of the biggest threats to activists is when Syrian government forces torture them and force them to hand over their Skype and Facebook contacts' lists. "This happened with one of our members. They arrested his wife and his son - his son was three years old. They pressured him to open his Skype account and Facebook page, to see with whom he was communicating," he said.

The activists told VOA that Syrians have access to international  broadcasters like CNN, BBC World Service, and Al Hurra, but listenership is limited by power cuts of up to 14 hours a day. Activists said what they need most isn't satellite phones or hardware -- because some Western governments have provided the activists with satellite phones and other hardware, but what they really need is credit to help them meet the soaring cost of the devices they already have.

You May Like

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs