Using accusations of illegitimate sexual relationships by the regime as propaganda
Evidence to condemn the regime not the victims
Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution in March 2013, Syrian official state-owned media and media supporting the regime have made repeated accusations against members of the opposition in order to tarnish its various images and efforts. It has been noted that accusations of illegitimate sexual relationships have dominated the mentalities of the masterminds behind the regime’s media campaigns. This will be studied in detail in this report.
For the sake of clarity of research, the report has studied Syrian official state-owned media alongside media owned by members close to the regime, such as Addounia TV, which is owned by Rami Makhlouf; the president’s cousin. In addition, it studied Iranian and Lebanese TV channels which support the regime. All these channels have taken part in a media strategy which targets the popular uprising in Syria.
Media campaigns that tarnish the image of the opposition
The Syrian regime has used organised campaigns to tarnish the image of political opposition in Syria, even before the revolution began. These campaigns aim to draw a negative image of the opposition in the public mind.
Among the most significant strategies used by the regime’s media are:
- Continuously spreading false information about the facts on the ground. These include denying the occurrence of any of the demonstrations in principle and denying the public motives behind them.
- Using religious rhetoric to support the legitimacy of the president and to criminalise the opposition.
- Using false and inaccurate information about other countries which oppose the Syrian regime.
- Attacking politicians in countries which do not support the regime (which include most governments other than Russia, China and Iran and some politicians in Lebanon). Accusations include that of treason, betrayal and having illegitimate sexual relationships.
- Repeatedly giving information which questions the ethics of members of the opposition and accusing them and some of their family members of having illegitimate sexual relationships and of homosexuality.
Accusations of illegitimate sexual relationships have been used before the revolution repeatedly, however they have turned into a frequent media policy used against certain named individuals in the Syrian opposition and also used collectively to target the opposition as a whole. Furthermore, it has been used to target the leaders of other countries.
This report will focus on the main accusations made and will present them from a legal and psychological perspective.
The main cases of accusations of illegitimate sexual relationships
1. Tal al-Mallouhi:
Tal al-Mallouhi is a Syrian blogger born in 1991. She was detained by the political security forces in 2009 due to her political publications on her blog. She remains currently detained. According to the official version presented to a group of foreign news correspondents on 23 Feb 2011 by Bushra Kanafani, director of the foreign media department at the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tal was recruited by an Austrian peacekeeping officer whom she met in Quneitra. He met her when she was 15 years old and offered her gifts and sums of money. He asked her to move with her family to Cairo and gave her a house in a rural neighbourhood in Helwan after she moved there on 29 Sep 2006.
In August 2008, the Austrian officer came to Egypt and met Tal, had a relationship with her and took pictures of her. He then handed in a CD to the American embassy in Cairo, which according to the official version, contained inappropriate photos of her. The embassy contacted her and an American intelligence officer asked her to give thorough details of the Syrian embassy’s work in Cairo, especially that of Third Secretary diplomat Samer Rbou’. Then, the officer got her in touch with an American diplomat whom he introduced as Jessica whose real name turned out to be Amy Sia Catherine Destifano. Jessica took photos of Tal while she was having in an affair with her private driver and based on that asked her to have an affair with Third Secretary Rbou’ in order to recruit him, but he declined and was able to expose her attempts to seduce him so he contacted the administration in Damascus, and Tal was arrested.
2. Accusations of illegitimate sexual relationships against Arab leaders and politicians:
In May 2011, two months following the breakout of the Syrian revolution, the pro-regime media, in both its Syrian and non-Syrian forms, launched a wide campaign attacking the opposition and the countries which supported or sympathised with it.
Former Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad, received a large amount of these accusations. Official and semi-official Syrian TV channels dedicated entire episodes to target him and his wife, Sheikha Mozah.
In one of the episodes aired on Addounia TV in June 2011, spokesman Ali al-Shu’eibi, who is described by the channel as a sheikh, doctor and scholar, accused Sheikh Hamad of being homosexual and swore to this repeatedly. In another episode, he said that Sheikha Mozah, Sheikh Hamad’s wife, is having an affair with an American CIA officer and that he has pictures and videos of her. Naturally, he did not show any of the evidence he claimed to obtain.
3. Accusations against members of the opposition:
In the same duration in 2011, several TV shows were aired on official and semi-official TV channels in Syria in which spokespeople claimed that they have evidence against certain named and other unnamed figures from the opposition who are having illegitimate relationships.
In one famous episode, Ali al-Shu’eibi appeared carrying a USB which he said contained 3 minutes and 20 seconds worth of footage of a wife of one of the opposition figures whilst having an affair with an American CIA officer, without naming him. He asked the camera to zoom into the USB without mentioning why. He then said that he would never show any of its contents because it defies his Islamic beliefs; however he said he will do so if the regime is under a lot of pressure.
In the beginning of June 2011, Addounia TV aired a special episode about Sheikh Adnan al-Aroor, who at that time gained recognition due to his religious speeches which oppose the regime. The entire episode was dedicated to speak about al-Aroor’s homosexuality. The episode presented documents about the case and hosted retired Brigadier General Fares al-Za’ouri who spoke about al-Aroor’s homosexuality during his military service in the army. Ali al-Shu’eibi was the main guest speaker in the studio in this episode as well.
Throughout the last two years, Syrian channels have aired tens of similar episodes in which the channels and the regular guest speakers claimed to have evidence that accuses members of the opposition of having illegitimate relationships.
In addition, many testimonies were aired of girls who said they were raped by armed figures. However, one of the cameramen at Addounia TV leaked a behind the scenes video of one of the testimonies. The video, which was aired on Al-Arabiya channel in the beginning of 2013, showed that the girl was acting and that she was given instructions what to say in the recording (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AOiUm8FNFg).
The idea of “sexual Jihad” arose in 2013 when a leakage from Lebanese, Iranian and Tunisian websites spoke about a religious ruling by Sheikh Mohammed al-Arefe claimed to have been mentioned on his twitter account. These websites circulated a picture of the tweet which encourages girls to have temporary marriages with Syrian fighters to gain reward from God.
Jihad for marriage which a decent Muslim woman who is over 14 years old or who is divorced or widowed is permissible with the fighters in Syria. It is a temporary marriage limited for hours to allow other fighters to get married as well. It is also a means of support to the fighters and whoever commits it will be promised heaven.
Despite the fact that the tweet exceeds 140 characters which is the limited number of characters allowed on the site, several websites and personalities which sympathise with the regime circulated the tweet and spoke about it (such as this video from Aljadeed TV https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lp5qw9ueHAs). However, these bodies have since retracted their claims about al-Arefe being the one behind this ruling and instead have began speaking about an unknown sheikh, a sheikh whose name the speaker has forgotten and about sexual jihad in general terms without going into its details (such as on Lebanese Almayadeen TV https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX5Zfhq1Yr0 21 April 2013 and Iranian Alalam TV http://www.alalam.ir/news/1459941 on 31 March 2013).
In addition to reporting Ghassan bin Jiddo’s version, the media sympathising with the regime also circulated stories and investigations which it claimed belonged to “female fighters in Jihad” who went to Syria to carry out sexual jihad. Later, following the overthrow of former president Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian media accused some Syrians in Egypt of practicing sexual jihad in Rab’aa Square where Morsi’s supporters were gathering.
On Egyptian channel Altahrir TV, presenter Mohammed al-Gheti said that Syrian female refugees are offering themselves for marriage for free to those protesting in Rab’aa Square in Cairo in accordance with what he called the religious ruling which encouraged “sexual jihad”. He said he forgot who gave the ruling and that Syrians are doing this in order to encourage men who are protesting there supporting overthrown president Mohammed Morsi
This media campaign which targeted Syrian women living in Egypt at that time was not condemned by any Egyptian human rights organisations.
Ghassan bin Jiddo, director of Almayadeen TV channel presented a programme on his channel on 29 March 2013 in which he hosted Haytham Manna, spokesman of the National Coordination Committee in Diaspora. Jiddo claimed that there are men who are divorcing their wives in order to send them to Syria to pleasure the fighters there. He discussed the religious ruling about sexual jihad in length without referring to the person behind it. He also said that he had a real witness who spoke to him about some fighters from the Maghreb who carry forty scented handkerchiefs, two Viagra pills and two pills of another unnamed medicine in their pockets.
In this campaign, a large number of fabricated films and photos have been used such as using pictures of female fighters in Chechnya as current Syrian fighters in addition to pornographic photos. Furthermore, stories which can only be described as fantasy have been written and used (such as the one in the following link which was aired on Almayadeen TV on 21 April 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX5Zfhq1Yr0).
This has resulted in some Syrians creating a “sexual jihad schedule” in which they wrote the names of the Syrian president’s wife, mother and sister and sent it to these channels which considered it a leak from the fighters. These pictures were circulated on Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian and Tunisian channels which confirms the absence of professional ethics among journalists supporting the regime (see the following link on Egyptian channel Altahrir TV aired on 25 September 2013: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eobhgf2IkmY&feature=youtu.be).
On 11 August 2013, an official state-owned Syrian news channel aired a film called “Anti-Islamic Sharia” which showed girls who said they carried out sexual jihad. In the film, the details of the sexual relationships which the girls, who in the film seem to have been caught by the Syrian security forces, carried out are mentioned.
The film shows an interview with a girl, introduced as Sara Khaled al-Alu, who according to the film is approximately 15 years old and is the female leader of the al-Nusra Front in al-Bukamal.
On 22 September 2013, the Syrian news channel aired an interview with Rawan Milad Qaddah (born in 1997) who said that her father brought some of the fighters to have sexual relationships with her telling her these actions are considered a type of resistance and that they would get her to heaven.
It is worth mentioning that the child Rawan Qaddah was kidnapped by a Syrian security unit in November 2012 while she was leaving Maysaloon School in Daraa. No news was known about her until she appeared on the news channel on 22 September 2013.
Accusing opposition powers of illegitimate relationships
Alongside the excessive sexual accusations made against members of the opposition by the Syrian regime and its political and organised forces and bodies, some anti-regime media and members of the opposition have also used similar methods such as accusing the regime of illegitimate and pornographic practices and accusing some women who support the regime of carrying out illegitimate sexual relationships with the regime’s military in order to support the military campaign carried out by the regime against its opponents. For example, a number of opposition websites have mentioned illegitimate relationships carried out by Syrian politicians and officers.
On 2 October 2013, Tha’er Nashef presented a programme on Safa TV, which is a Saudi channel, in which he spoke about Iran sending Shite girls to entertain members of the military and forces supporting the regime, connecting these actions to the Alawite and Shite religious beliefs (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dwFd1bbvckA).
Legal and ethical dimensions of ethical accusations
Accusations of carrying out illegitimate sexual relationships are an indicator of a psychological complex in the parties that make them. Such a dimension could be the subject of lengthy reports written by specialists in psychology in order to study the characters which thought and produced such fabrications and stories.
From a legal perspective, these accusations against politicians and members of the opposition are considered a crime according to civil law, as long as the other party does not provide conclusive evidence and that this does not threaten the country’s national security.
Airing the testimonies of detainees on TV is a crime in itself, especially those of women, due to the sensitivity of such topics in Syria and the region and the impact it could have on their lives and families.
A testimony given by the suspect is not a strong enough evidence according to civil law, it is not even enough for a judge to base a sentence on. In addition, the circumstances of prisons in Syria, where excessive torture and inhumane treatment are used, need to be considered. Syrian prisons are amongst the worst detention centres in the world, therefore testimonies given from detainees there cannot be legally considered. Airing these testimonies is another proof of the inhumane treatment the detainees are receiving as Syrian security forces insist on using torture and inhumane practices which humiliate them and their families on the long run on television screens.
Using children in these media campaigns is a clear violation of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The children shown on Syrian TV such as Rawan Qaddah and Sara al-Alu were kidnapped for many months beforehand by Syrian security forces without a warrant or charge. Their parents did not receive any information about them till they saw their testimonies aired on TV.
From a media perspective, these campaigns are a violation of all codes of ethics and professional conduct recognised by journalists. Syrian, Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian and Tunisian media channels have thoroughly discussed religious rulings without citing their sources, or have retracted them after citing them. They have also published fabricated films and pictures and did not hesitate to publish films produced by official Syrian media about female detainees.
The Syrian Human Rights Committee, whilst emphasising the inhumane circumstances detainees in Syria are under, especially in detention centres, which do not meet the minimum standards used in treating detainees and prisoners, and whilst also emphasising the international community’s responsibility towards human rights in Syria based on international and universal human rights regulations, calls for:
- Human rights organisations to practise their responsibility towards applying the treaties signed with the Syrian government, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
- Focusing on the bigger picture of detainees in Syrian prisons whose numbers, locations and circumstances are unknown and focusing especially on detained women and children.
- Political parties and organisations, in the West in specific, to exert pressure on politicians to pay a significant amount of attention to the human rights aspect in their political dealings and to put an end to the on-going violations committed in Syria against human rights which have gone ignored, as this has serious implications on the general trends in the Syrian community and in the region as a whole.
- Civil rights organisations and relevant international organisations to monitor the violations committed by media supporting the regime which form criminal offences with its content that promotes violence, hate and humiliation of others, especially that of women and children.
 All video links mentioned in the report are in Arabic