Syria attacks 'media fabrications' by showing 'beheaded' woman alive on TV

March 1, 2014
Syria attacks 'media fabrications' by showing 'beheaded' woman alive on TV

Ian Black and Matthew Weaver
The Guardian, Wednesday 5 October 2011.

Zainab al-Hosni went missing in July and her body was returned to her family and buried. Now Damascus says she is alive

Syria's government has sought to score a propaganda coup with the mysterious TV appearance of a young woman who had been reported to have been beheaded and mutilated by state security agents.

The macabre story was revived on Tuesday when the main state TV channel screened a brief interview with a woman claiming to be Zainab al-Hosni.

International human rights groups and Syrian opposition activists said Hosni had been killed after being detained in July.

The station described the interview as intended to discredit foreign "media fabrications".

Hosni's family confirmed that it was her in the film, but they could not say whether she was alive or had in fact been killed after the interview. The episode thus ended up posing troubling new questions.

Last month Amnesty International described Hosni, 18, as the first woman to have died in Syrian state custody, after her mutilated body was discovered by her family at the military hospital in her home town of Homs, having apparently been tortured and partially dismembered.
In the interview, a black-clad young woman who identified herself as Hosni and flashed her identity card said she had run away from home in July because her brothers had abused her.

She said that her family did not know that she was alive and asked her mother for forgiveness.

"I am very much alive and I have opted to tell the truth because I am planning to get married in the future and have kids who I want to be registered," she told her interviewer, calmly but slightly hesitantly.

Relatives confirmed that the woman they saw on TV was indeed her, said Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch.

"They were relieved to know their sister is alive, or hope that she is still alive. At the same time, they are angry and confused because they feel they have been tricked. All this confusion should highlight the need for the Syrian authorities to allow human rights observers into the country.

"This is a strange story that just got stranger. Let's establish some facts. There is a decapitated body of a woman that was buried by the Hosni family. Who is this dead girl who was buried?"

Amnesty said in a statement: "If the body was not that of Zainab al-Hosni, then clearly the Syrian authorities need to disclose whose it was.

"We are trying to determine the exact circumstances of the case and will release comprehensive information as soon as we can."

The story may have been an error or, some suspect, a hoax perpetrated by Syria to embarrass media, opposition and human rights groups who have been reporting on President Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown: nearly 3,000 people have been killed in six months.

"I wouldn't put it past the Syrian authorities to have fabricated the whole thing," said a western diplomat. "They can be cynical and manipulative to an extraordinary degree."

News of the interview was quickly tweeted by the press attache at the Syrian embassy in London.

Nabil al-Halabi of the Lebanese Institution for Democracy and Human Rights told al-Jazeera: "Syrian TV represents a state which is killing its own people."

Maysaloon, a Syrian blogger, commented: "First, the body her family received is still a person who has been viciously murdered, or at least her body has, and she must have a family somewhere.

"Second, the date on which she was paraded on television was the day the UN security council draft resolution was to be voted on. Like Iran, the Syrian regime is remarkably sensitive to the political calendar … So, wherever, and whoever, Zainab al-Hosni is, many things don't add up about the way this whole story developed."
The Damascus government routinely blames the unrest on a foreign conspiracy and accuses the international media of spreading lies – although most journalists are banned from the country, and the few who are there operate under crippling restrictions.

State media allots much of its time and resources to dismissing what it says as media fabrications and lies.

Human Rights Watch had said Hosni vanished in late July and that the Syrian authorities returned her "dismembered body" to her family on 17 September.

It said that the killing and mutilation of the woman "highlights the need … for an international investigation into rampant killings and torture in Syria".

The Syrian Human Rights Network, a loyalist organisation, demanded an apology for Hosni and the Syrian people.


The Guardian

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