Syrian TV drama uses photo of real regime victim to represent murdered woman
Source The Guardian
A new Ramadan television series in Syria has been met with revulsion by the opposition and diaspora community after a photograph of a 24-year-old torture victim who died in a regime prison was used to represent a fictional murdered woman.
In the detective drama An Interview With Mr Adam, an Egyptian woman who was pregnant by her rich employer’s son is apparently murdered by her lover. While the woman is played by an actor in flashbacks, in one scene when an investigator prints out a photograph of the body, the picture actually belongs to Rehab al-Alawi, whose death in a notorious Syrian jail was confirmed in 2014.
“The shock and sense of disturbance has been universal,” said Mai el-Sadany, legal and judicial director at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
“Presenting a known Syrian torture victim as if she is an unknown non-Syrian victim of crime in a fictional drama is, at best, disturbingly callous, and at worst a potentially intentional re-traumatisation of victims and an attempted rewriting of the regime’s history and complicity in torture.”
Rehab al-Alawi, from Deir ez-Zor, one of the first cities in Syria to see anti-Assad protests in the 2011 Arab spring, was studying civil engineering in Damascus when the uprising began. She became even more committed to the revolution after her elder brother Asem was disappeared and killed by Bashar al-Assad’s forces later that year.
Alawi herself was arrested in January 2013. A former cellmate later told her mother and siblings she had been subjected to interrogations and torture for around two hours a day and would come back crying and shaking with fear.
“We did our best to save her life, but we failed,” said Rehab’s brother Hamza, who now lives in Saudi Arabia. “In total we paid around $150,000 (£121,000) to try and secure Rehab’s release … We sent messages and money to several military officers who promised they would smuggle her to Lebanon.
“They told us she was safe but they could not give us any proof. We knew later they took our money and lied.”
The family found out Alawi was dead when her picture surfaced among the thousands of photographs of killed political prisoners released by a dissident military police photographer in 2014, in what came to be known as the Caesar report.
In the photograph of Alawi’s body from the Caesar cache, her headscarf has slipped off, revealing red marks on her chest, and the rest of her black clothing is covered in dust. Two numbers are taped across her forehead: one is a reference number for the branch of the security services responsible for her detention and the other is a falsified document number recording her death in a military hospital – both unique markers of the Syrian prison system.
Despite an outpouring of anger on social media and news coverage in several Arabic-language outlets, neither the director, Fadi Selim, nor the production company, Phoenix Group, have addressed the use of Alawi’s photograph. Phoenix Group and Abu Dhabi TV, which airs the series across the region, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Encouraged by the first trial of former regime officers connected to the Caesar files, which began in Germany last month, Alawi’s Munich-based uncle Khalid al-Alawi said he was considering suing An Interview With Mr Adam’s director and production company in Germany’s courts over the use of his niece’s photograph.
“Rehab’s death was heartbreaking, but the most shocking thing was seeing her picture in the series,” he said. “We all know that Assad is part of everything in Syria: even movies and sports represent the regime. They killed her and now they are changing the facts and falsifying history.”
Syrian television shows have channelled several inflammatory regime narratives since the conflict broke out: peaceful protesters as well as armed opposition members are often referred to as terrorists, and a Ramadan drama from last year mocked victims of chemical weapons attacks by suggesting that rescue teams in rebel-held areas had staged the events.
Revealing the fates of around 120,000 people who have disappeared in Assad’s prisons is one of the biggest hurdles in sporadic international talks to end Syria’s war, now in their 10th year.