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

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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 Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid