Tale of lesbian dissident snatched by Assad in doubt

The Internet has been abuzz with speculation that story of alleged kidnapping of Syrian anti-regime activist is an elaborate hoax.

By
June 10, 2011 04:17
3 minute read.
Arraf photo actually of Londoner Jelena Lecic.

Arraf fake photo 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari vanished without a trace on June 6, when she was allegedly kidnapped by Syrian state security, on the streets of Damascus.

Since then, an online campaign to garner her freedom has gone viral, and millions have tuned in for news – any news – on Arraf’s whereabouts.

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The problem is, Arraf may not exist.

The blog “A Gay Girl in Damascus” (damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com) dealt with Arraf’s experiences as a lesbian and anti-regime activist in Syria. It became an Internet sensation shortly after the outbreak of the popular uprising against the Assad regime in March.

This week, the Internet has been abuzz with speculation that Arraf’s tale is an elaborate hoax – possibly a sort of blogosphere “hearts and minds” campaign against the Assad regime.

Questions began to emerge after a woman purporting to be a cousin of Arraf’s, named Rania O. Islam, wrote a post on Arraf’s blog Monday claiming the blogger was taken away by three plainclothes Syrian state security officers and crammed into a car.

On Wednesday, a publicist in London said that a photo circulating the web purportedly of Arraf, is actually that of a Londoner named Jelena Lecic. The publicist said she was contacted by Lecic’s ex-husband, who noticed that her photos were being used by supporters of Arraf.

In a press release put out by the publicist on Wednesday, Lecic – who is not Gay, Syrian, or a blogger – is quoted as saying “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 the pictures were taken from her Facebook account, but she had no idea by whom.

Potentially making matters even stranger, Lecic’s publicist, Julius Just of Just News International, does not appear to have any clients other than Arraf, and the only place his PR company appears online is on its own vague, single-page website.

Reporters covering the story have been unable to find anyone who has actually met Arraf in person, and only a handful have said that they corresponded with her, or someone purporting to be her, online.

Further cause for suspicion is the heading of a previous blog run by Arraf in 2007 entitled “Amina Arraf’s Attempts at Art (and Alliteration),” where underneath the title is written “this blog is ... where I will be posting samples of fiction and literature I am working on.

This blog will contain chapters and drafts. This blog will have what may sometimes seem likely deeply personal accounts. And sometimes they will be. But there will also be fiction.

And I will not tell you which is which.”

That previous blog mainly covered the 35-year-old Arraf’s ruminations on her childhood as a Syrian immigrant to the US, where she says she was raised by a Syrian father and American mother in Virginia.

One aspect of the story, with timing that appeared too good to be true, was the last blog post written by Arraf before her disappearance, in a poem entitled “Bird Songs.”

The final stanza of the 20-line poem reads “soaring and flying, freedom is coming, here am I wanting to know it one day.”


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