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Syrian blogger jailed as social media helps protestors in Middle East

February 21, 2011 |  4:29 pm

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A veteran blogger in Syria was jailed Sunday -- yet another example of just how important to demonstrators, and threatening to government regimes, the Internet can be.

The blogger, Ahmad Abu Khair, was arrested early Sunday morning while driving from the coastal town of Banias to Damascus, according a Facebook group calling for his release and the citizen-journalism advocacy group Global Voices.

Times reporters in Beirut said on our sister blog, Babylon and Beyond, that the charges against Khair hadn't yet been made public, but that the blogger has been a big supporter of Tunisia's success in removing now-former President Zine el Abidine ben Ali.

From Babylon and Beyond:

In a recent post on his blog titled "Inspired by the revolution" (Arabic link), Khair compared the conditions that led to the uprising in Tunisia with the situation in Syria and other Arab countries, concluding: "Change is possible ... but by revolution!"

But others have said that Khair's comments were not seen as particularly controversial and were echoed by many in the blogosphere.

"All Syrian bloggers praised the revolution and talked generally about why change is important," a source in Syria with knowledge of social media told Babylon & Beyond. "If his blog was the reason" for his arrest, "then this is surely a change of policy: If you support a revolution you'll be detained." The source asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.

Khair's arrest coincides with reports that the hunger strike of jailed Kurdish-Syrian blogger and rights activist Kamal Hussein Sheikho had entered its fifth day on Sunday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (Arabic link).

The 33-year-old blogger was arrested in June at the Lebanese-Syrian border and charged with "spreading false information to weaken the morale of the nation."

Khair's arrest also arrives about one week after blogger Tal Mallouhi, 19, was found guilty of passing information to the United States and sentenced to five years in prison.

The imprisoning of activists who use the Internet to mobilize others as well as to criticize their governments is becoming a commonplace action of governments that are seeing massive protests calling for political reforms and, in many cases, a switch to democracy.

In Egypt, Google executive Wael Ghonim is credited as being one of the leaders in the ongoing revolution toward democracy that has removed former President Hosni Mubarak. Ghonim was held for 12 of the 18 days of protests that led to Mubarak's ouster. 

Another increasingly common move by governments facing unrest as protesters fill the streets is to cut off access to social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs and YouTube.

In Iran, Tunisia, Egypt and recently Libya, the Internet has been temporarily shut off or throttled down to a point of being unusable.

To read the full report on Babylon and Beyond, head over to the post titled 'SYRIA: Another blogger jailed as social media fuels protests in Arab world.'

RELATED:

Complete L.A. Times coverage of protests in Bahrain, Iran, Libya, Jordan, Yemen and elsewhere

Libya's Internet reportedly down as violence against anti-government protesters continues

Egyptian man names his baby girl 'Facebook,' reports say

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Blogger Ahmad Abu al Khair was reportedly arrested by Syrian security forces early Sunday morning. Credit: Facebook

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