When he was agitating for revolution, urging fellow Syrians to rise up against President Bashar al-Assad, Abdullah dreaded the midnight knock at the door from the secret police.
Now that the uprising has succeeded in his home town near Aleppo, pro-democracy activists are living in fear again - and this time those who brand them “traitor” don’t bother to knock.
Two years ago, after Abdullah broke off his studies to run social media campaigns against Assad, he was held and tortured by security men. This summer, it happened again - only now it was Islamist gunmen loyal to al Qaeda who smashed into his family’s house, broke everything in their way and took him off to a cell where, once more, he was blindfolded and beaten.
“The sad thing is that those who were doing this were not Assad’s police,” Abdullah told Reuters from Turkey, where he managed to flee after his latest ordeal. “They were fighters who were supposed to be fighting for freedom, our freedom.
“Back then they called me ‘traitor’ for demanding freedom. These armed men also tortured me for calling for freedom.”
His story is increasingly familiar across northern Syria, where Assad’s government has ceded territory to a bewildering array of rival militias. The rising power is militant Islam and men who see democracy as the work of the devil, or the West, a system contrary to their hopes for a state ruled by religion.
Abdullah’s experience also highlights the fragmentation of Syria’s opposition, which greatly complicates new international efforts to end a civil war that has killed over 100,000.
Reuters spoke to 19 Syrians who describe themselves as activists for democracy. All gave similar accounts of violence and intimidation by militant Islamists in northern areas no longer controlled by Assad’s “mukhabarat” security services.
Most were students when Syria's Arab Spring protests began in March 2011. All got involved in publicizing demonstrations - and documenting Assad’s crackdown on them - using social media. They went on, as self-taught journalists, to provide images and reports for Syrians and international media as the war spread.
Some, like Abdullah, have now had to flee for their lives.
They, and those still inside Syria, say Islamist militants have begun a campaign to silence them and free speech in general. Last month, two media activists were shot dead in broad daylight in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city. Some have been seized and are being held. Others have simply disappeared.
نستخدم ملفات الكوكيز لنسهل عليك استخدام مواقعنا الإلكترونية ونكيف المحتوى والإعلانات وفقا لمتطلباتك واحتياجاتك الخاصة، لتوفير ميزات وسائل التواصل الاجتماعية ولتحليل حركة المرور لدينا...اعرف أكثر