Residents of the Syrian town Kafar Naboudeh reported around 1 a.m. Tuesday morning to being rocked awake by heavy artillery shelling by president Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Meanwhile, in Tal Ahmed Bano Sabee, reports flowed in of a “raid and arbitrary arrest campaign,” and heavy clashes took place in Deir Ezzor between the Free Syrian Army and regime forces near Al-Furat University and the residential project in Deir Atiq.
Later in the morning, mysterious explosions rocked the streets of Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs, as shelling and gunfire were reported in Homs’ Khaldiyeh district and powerful explosions peppered nearby neighborhoods.
Monday came to a close with a body count of 15 in Syria, several of whom were reported to be women and children. 12 people were reported dead in Homs, including 75 unidentified bodies found in the local hospital. 16 martyrs were reported in Idlib. Six in Hama, four of whom were members of the Free Syrian Army. Five martyrs were reported in Aleppo.
But how do we — out in western Europe and the United States — how do we know of these events taking place in Syria, when president Bashar al-Assad has effectively shut down and maintained surveillance of all means of mass communication within his nation’s borders? How are we able to receive these updates, with western journalists forced to the periphery of the nation’s borders now for over a month?
These reports stream in to western journalists multiple times per day, via email, from the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (or LCC), a network of committees located throughout Syria and in neighboring countries dedicated to the opposition movement.
Rafif Jouejati is the LCC’s U.S. contact. A Syrian-American located in Washington, D.C., she last year began to take time from her position as CEO of a management consulting firm to dedicate herself to the Syrian opposition movement. She serves as both the LCC’s English-language spokesperson and as a member of the translation team.
The LCC serves two main functions for the Syrian people. First, it acts as a cerebral centerpiece for protesters, quickly pulling together and disseminating times and locations for events and protests in which the Syrian people can take part. Second, the LCC has a reporting and documentation function. Activist reporters in all corners of Syria document bombings and other military actions with their cameras, take body counts and provide this information to their local LCC committee, who then move it along the information pipeline that eventually leads to the journalists on the LCC’s mailing list.
According to Jouejati, the LCC has evolved with the revolution. At the outset of the violence last year, the Syrian people pulled together and agreed that it was necessary to document the atrocities taking place across the country.
“Assad the Elder basically got away with slaughtering an entire town,” says Jouejati, referring to the Hama massacre of February, 1982, in which then-president Hafez al-Assad ordered his troops to conduct a scorched-earth campaign against the people of the Hama in order to push down an uprising brought on by the area’s Sunni Muslim population.
“We weren’t about to let that happen again.”
Today, the LCC consists of 14 separate committees peppered throughout the Syrian landscape — from Damascus to Dara, from Hama to Hasaka — as well as a number of committees located in neighboring countries. It recently won Reporters Without Borders’ Netizen Prize, an award sponsored by Google which recognizes users, bloggers and dissidents who stand up for freedom of expression on the web.
Jouejati says that the LCC weighs on the conscience of the world’s population by keeping the violence and atrocities on the headlines in the news.
“Today,” she says, “you have people following Syria very closely. A year ago, most people couldn’t place Syria on a map.”
Reports continued to roll in to newsrooms in the United States on Tuesday morning from the LCC. Student demonstrations in Aleppo. Clashes in Inkhel between Assad’s forces and the Free Syrian Army. Eleven deaths, including two elderly women and two mentally ill people.
Unable to enter Syria and document the violence themselves, news organizations vet these reports as best they can, with activists and the LCC serving as the only information intermediaries for events on the ground.
Foreign reporters tend to keep in mind that the citizen journalists are activists with agendas, and embellishments by vee-jay activists have been caught on tape, but the LCC continues to serve as the most reliable pipeline of information for news organizations who are unable to enter the Syria and document the violence themselves.
Regarding the reports of embellishments, Jouejati says that any activists perpetuating inaccuracies make the jobs of those in the LCC that much more difficult. She cites the number of deaths to date in Syria, and invites anyone to take a walk through the archaeological sites being used as bases by Assad’s forces, or to take a tour through the public schools being used as detention facilities.
Ultimately, says Jouejati, “there is no need for any sort of fabrication.”