‘This had to happen eventually’

A close friend of detained Syrian blogger, Amina Abdallah Arraf, talks about her friend’s arrest and work.

Update: A US student based in Scotland has indentified himself as the author of the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog, sparking an outcry from rights campaigners around the world.

Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old Edinburgh University masters student, admitted on June 12 that he was “Amina Arraf”, who had described “herself” as a Syrian political blogger.

The revelation comes after a number of questions had been raised about Arraf’s identity. One of her alleged photos was actually a photo of a woman named Jelena Lecic, who lives in London and said she has never met anyone named Amina Arraf. And a 2007 post on Arraf’s old blog suggested that at least some of her writings are fictional.

We reported this morning on Amina Arraf, a Syrian woman who blogs at A Gay Girl in Damascus under the name Amina Abdallah.

Arraf is hardly the only blogger to be arrested recently in Syria, of course. Twenty-year-old Tal al-Mallouhi was jailed in February on “espionage” charges Ahmad Abu al-Khair was arrested a few days later while traveling from Baniyas to Damascus Khaled ElEkhetyar disappeared for a week in March Egyptian-American blogger Muhammed Radwan was detained later that month… you get the point.

But Arraf’s case has attracted quite a bit of attention, in the media and online, probably because of the unusual circumstances: She is a Syrian-American dual citizen, and an openly gay woman living in Damascus.

I talked briefly this afternoon with Sandra Bagaria, a close friend living in Montreal, who said she didn’t think either of those two facts played a role in Arraf’s arrest, though.

“A lot of people have said she was kidnapped because she’s gay or because she’s American,” Bagaria said. “I think she was taken because she’s trying to tell the truth about what’s happening in Syria… this had to happen eventually.”

Bagaria, who said she planned to meet Arraf in Europe later this month, told me their last contact was an e-mail on Monday morning, hours before Arraf’s arrest.

“She said just yesterday that she felt the situation in Damascus was secure,” Bagaria said. “But she also said she had received e-mails from me that I never wrote, telling her that I was in Damascus, and asking her to meet up… someone obviously hacked my e-mail account or somehow pretended to be me. They were trying to approach her, I think.”

(Bagaria did not have copies of the e-mails.)

Arraf has been increasingly critical of the government over the last few months. She wrote last Sunday that “they must go, they must go soon. That is all there is to say,” referring to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle. 

In April, she wrote about how her father faced down two security agents who came to arrest her, threatening to rape her and accusing her of being involved in a salafist plot.

Bagaria said Arraf spent part of the last few months “in hiding,” though she continued to blog, and that she had received threats before her arrest.

“I think, because she was American as well, she felt she could say a little more,” Bagaria said. “But then every Friday she was writing on her back, on her arms, her name in English and Arabic, her passport details, just in case something would happen to her.”

In an update on Arraf’s blog posted on Tuesday afternoon, her cousin Rania said that Arraf is still missing.

“Unfortunately, there are at least 18 different police formations in Syria as well as multiple different party militias and gangs. We do not know who took her so we do not know who to ask to get her back. It is possible that they are forcibly deporting her,” she wrote.

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