By Liz Sly
The Sydney Morning Herald, May 31, 2011
"His head was swollen, purple and disfigured. His body was a mess of welts, cigarette burns and wounds from bullets fired to injure, not kill. His kneecaps had been smashed, his neck broken, his jaw shattered and his penis cut off. What finally killed him was not clear, but it appeared painfully, shockingly clear that he had suffered terribly during the month he spent in Syrian custody. Hamza Ali al-Khateeb was only 13 years old. And since a video portraying the torture inflicted upon him was broadcast on the al-Jazeera television network on Friday, he has rapidly emerged as the new symbol of the protest movement in Syria. His childish features have put a face to the largely faceless and leaderless opposition to the regime of the President, Bashar al-Assad, a regime that has angered the country for nine weeks, reinvigorating a movement that had seemed in danger of drifting. It is too early to tell whether the boy's death will trigger the kind of critical mass that brought down the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia and that the Syrian protests have lacked. But it would not be the first time that the suffering of an individual had motivated ordinary people who might not otherwise have taken to the streets to rise against their governments.
The revolt in Tunisia was inspired by a street vendor who set himself on fire after being insulted by a local policewoman. In Egypt the beating death last year of Khaled Said, an Alexandria resident, kindled the opposition movement that eventually led the uprising against the rule of Hosni Mubarak. Activists believed Hamza will become the Khaled Said of Syria, said Wissam Tarif of the human rights group Insan. 'This boy is already a symbol. It has provoked people, and the protests are increasing.' Over the weekend, demonstrations erupted in towns and cities across Syria to denounce the torture of Hamza, marking an escalation in a movement that had until now focused its protests around Friday prayers. In Hama, a city 185 kilometres north of Damascus, the capital, thousands swarmed a central square holding pictures of the boy and chanting 'Hamza, Hamza.' In a neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, which until now had not taken part in protests on any significant scale, people climbed onto rooftops overnight on Saturday, chanting, 'God is great. Hamza, Hamza.' In Darayya, a suburb of Damascus, children took to the streets on Sunday to denounce his torture. A Facebook page, 'We are all Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, the Child Martyr,' has drawn more than 40,000 members since it was created on Saturday. 'There is no place left here for the regime after what they did to Hamza,' one comment said. An English version has more than 3000 followers. [...]"