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The New Arab

Syrians furious after Facebook deletes posts mourning revolutionary icon

Hundreds of Syrians attended the funeral of Abdel Basset Sarout [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 June, 2019

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Posts eulogising Syrian revolutionary fighter Abdul Basset Sarout, who was killed on June 8, were removed from Facebook as a result of what seems to be an organised reporting campaign.

Syrian social media users have reacted angrily after Facebook reportedly removed posts and closed down Facebook pages commemorating Syrian revolutionary icon Abdel Basset Sarout.

Sarout, a goalkeeper for a local football club in Homs, quickly rose to prominence in the early days of the Syrian revolution when he led protesters in singing songs calling for freedom.

When the Syrian regime responded with military force to protesters, he became a fighter with Syrian rebels. He was killed in battle with regime forces on 8 June.

Syrians on Facebook have been writing posts on social media mourning and eulogising the footballer-turned-revolutionary, with one Facebook user from Aleppo saying that Sarout had gone from being a “guardian of the goal” to “the guardian of the nation”, singing songs for the whole Arab world from Homs in the days of the Arab Spring.

However, Facebook has deleted many of the posts mourning Sarout, saying that they “violated community standards”.

Syrian writer Yassin al-Haj Saleh said that two of his posts about Sarout were deleted by Facebook, posting on June 10 that “I think what Facebook has done today, deleting arbitrarily two of my posts, is in a radical contradiction of the principles of freedom of expression.”

Syrian actor Mazen Al-Natour said “I received a message from Facebook saying that I violated community standards and my post had been removed… but my last post had only been a picture accompanied by a eulogy for the hero Abdul Basset Sarout… and all I wrote was ‘mercy and peace, glory and immortality to your pure soul, Sarout was a beautiful martyr’… What violation is there in this?”

Meanwhile, pages that posted about Sarout were also taken down. They included the “Syrian Forum in France” page, which has over 55,000 followers, as well as a page belonging to the Syrian news website Zaman al-Wasl.

Some Facebook users attributed the removal of posts and pages to an organised campaign of reporting by pro-Assad regime social media users.

This is not the first time that pro-opposition Syrian posts and pages have been taken down by Facebook. In 2014, Facebook deleted dozens of pages belonging to non-violent Syrian activists.

Facebook’s community standards have previously been criticized for vagueness - anyone can report a picture or post as a violation of community standards. The pro-Assad Syrian Electronic Army has been engaged in a cyber-campaign against Syrian opposition media users since 2011.

In response to the deletions, Syrian activists organised a campaign on Facebook under which social media users would post photos of Sarout accompanied by a hashtag saying simply #Sarout in Arabic or English.

An online petition calling for Facebook to stop deleting Sarout-related posts has so far received nearly 13,000 signatures.

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