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

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid