Wed 15 Jul 2020

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Syrian regime’s official and affiliated media outlets covering Coronavirus crisis with security branches’ mindset

Syria's Interior Minister Mohammad al-Rahmoun, while in an inspection tour in Damascus city- 03 April 2020 (Ministry of Interior Facebook page)

Syria's Interior Minister Mohammad al-Rahmoun, while in an inspection tour in Damascus city- 03 April 2020 (Ministry of Interior Facebook page)

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In the past few days, the Syrian regime’s government has pushed for action against the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), with the help of official and affiliated pro-regime media outlets’ coverage.

TV Channels, news agencies, news websites, and social media pages undertook this mission upon themselves, regarding it as a move for the benefit of the public interest, to serve social solidarity in society. Nevertheless, their coverage very often seemed to be in conformity with the regime’s security approach, as it carries a certain degree of threat to citizens.

Two weeks ago, Syria joined the list of countries with few coronavirus infections, based on the regime’s government narrative. On the other hand, media reports indicate that there are more cases than the announced infections, 16 cases only, throughout the Syrian provinces. These reports talked also about infected cases coming from Syria to other countries as was the case with Karbala city in Iraq.

The regime’s government has taken a set of preventive measures to curb the spread of the virus, through suspension of classes, work government departments, closure of markets, and shops, with the exception of grocery stores. The regime’s government also decided on canceling prayers in mosques and social gatherings, as well as halting public transportation and movement between provinces, cities, and rural areas.

As the number of coronavirus infections reached 16 cases, including two confirmed deaths, the government tightened measures and imposed a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., as well as a full lockdown on Fridays and Saturdays excluding the early morning hours.

“Yunus! Take him to the security branch, quietly,”

On 25 March, the Ministry of Interior’s police units began patrolling the streets and neighborhoods to implement the curfew decision.

This coincided with the release of a video recording police officials arresting a citizen who violated the curfew in Damascus city while heading to Sahnaya town; however, he was taken to the security branch to “resolve his situation.”

The phrase “Yunus! Take him to the security branch to resolve his situation, quietly,” quickly went viral on the Syrian social media, commenting on Yunus, the young policeman, who was ordered by the officer to arrest the person in the video and drive him to the security branch and “resolve his situation.”

On a tv program called “Trending This Week”, broadcasted on the state-run Syrian News Channel, al-Ikhbaria, the presenter talked about the famous video recording and how Syrians reacted to it. Surprisingly, the program’ s presenter ended the episode advising Syrians by saying, “stay at your homes so that Yunus and his fellow police officials will not have to handle your situations.”

Calls for reporting Coronavirus patients in Syria!

Hours after the “policeman Yunus” incident, the Interior Ministry of the regime’s government announced the arrest of 153 people in Damascus, Rif Dimashq, Hama, Homs, Latakia, Aleppo, and Tartus.

The ministry indicated that the detainees would be brought to the competent judicial authority to take legal actions against them for violating the curfew decision.

At the same time, the pro-government newspaper al-Watan interviewed the Attorney General of Rif Dimashq province, Ibrahim Abdul Qader, who confirmed that the imposed punishment on curfew violators is between six months and three years of prison, and a fine of 50 to 500,000 Syrian Pounds (SYP- 0.039 and 38 USD).

Despite the importance of the curfew decision to curb the spread of coronavirus, the regime’s media resorted to intimidating Syrians, who were forced to implement these decisions to avoid arrest and the regime’s security branches.

For its part, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) published a photo asking Syrian people to report on patients with suspected coronavirus infections.

SANA’s use of the slogan “Report… Do not Hesitate” which brought back to Syrians’ minds the regime’s security ways used at the beginning of the revolution in 2011, when citizens were encouraged by the regime’s government to report and snitch on each other to security branches.

The Ministry of Interior has also assigned specific telephone numbers to report those entering Syrian borders illegally, from Lebanon for instance, which has unauthorized crossings with Syrian regime-controlled areas.

The ministry asked citizens not to cover for coronavirus-infected patients and report them instead, so the government would hold them in quarantine for two weeks, under the pretext of protecting the public health.

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