The case of the Syrian Lesbian
 

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posted Friday, June 10, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 23

The case of the Syrian Lesbian
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer Amina Arraf - who blogs under the names 'Gay Girl in Damascus' and 'Amina Abdallah' - was reported to have been kidnapped by Syrian authorities on June 6.

She immediately became the focus of an international online campaign to pressure the Syrian government to free her, as Queer bloggers picked up the news from each other and passed it along.

But by June 8, many journalists following the case began to question whether she exists at all.

Although her blog attracted international attention as Syria's Baathist regime became the target of a mass popular uprising, NPR reporter and Mideast expert Andy Carvin could find no one - in or out of Syria's LGBT community - who had ever met her.

Carvin researched his story by following up on Twitter posts to the account #FreeAmina, which had been set up to organize support for her release. While many people expressed their support, not one said they personally knew her.

Arraf - or someone claiming to be Arraf - has been quoted in The Washington Post, CNN, Time magazine, and the British newspaper The Guardian, but Carvin discovered that the interviews were all done via email, not by phone, much less face-to-face.

Sandra Bagaria of Montreal, who told Fox News reporters that she was Arraf's 'girlfriend' in a June 6 interview, later revealed to The New York Times that she had corresponded with Arraf only online and had never actually seen her in person.

The U.S. State Department said that it was working to confirm reports that Arraf had been born in Virginia and was, therefore, a U.S. citizen entitled to government protection, but reportedly it could not find records of her birth.

Photos purporting to be of Arraf have been taken down from her blog and other websites supporting her when Jelena Lecic, a Croatian woman who works as an administrator at the Royal College of Physicians in London, complained that they were actually her photos.

'I pray that Amina is safely returned to her family but I want to make it quite clear that I am not her, despite my photographs being attached to this story,' Lecic said in a press release.

Lecic added that her identity has been stolen before by Arraf. At least a year ago, Lecic said, friends called her asking about a Facebook account that she had not created, but which used her photos.

Lecic has hired a London publicist, Julian Just, to handle her relations with the media.

The individual who posted the account of Arraf's abduction on her 'Gay Girl in Damascus' blog, identifying herself as Arraf's cousin 'Rania O. Ismail,' has not replied to email inquiries from reporters.

An American blogger who claimed to have been corresponding with Arraf reportedly traced her IP address to Scotland.

It would not be unusual for a pro-democracy journalist - especially an out Lesbian - to assume an alternative identity for personal safety in a country governed by a ruthless dictatorship. Nor would it be out of the question for someone in the Syrian exile community to run an anti-government blog.

Carvin, for example, believes that Arraf is a real person, but is someone 'who expresses herself better online than offline.'

However, in addition to questions about the true identity of 'Gay Girl in Damascus,' there are also serious questions about whether her posts are fact or fiction.

In one post titled 'My Father, My Hero,' for example, Arraf claims that Syrian security officers visited her house, only to be faced down by her father.

'She is my daughter, and she is who she is and if you want her, you must take me as well,' she quotes her father as saying.

Given the Assad regime's brutal suppression of dissent, journalists have questioned whether actual Syrian security officers would have left either father or daughter alive, let alone unarrested.

NPR's Carvin also reported that some of Arraf's recent blog posts seem to be reposts of material dating back as far as 2007.

The 'Gay Girl in Damascus' blog has not been updated since the report of Arraf's abduction on June 6.



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