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A Syrian Oppositionist Abroad: 'Everyone Is Being Followed'

Syrian student Mughira al-Sharif demonstrates against the Assad regime in front of the Syrian Consulate in Istanbul.
Syrian student Mughira al-Sharif demonstrates against the Assad regime in front of the Syrian Consulate in Istanbul.
ISTANBUL -- Around 100 Syrian demonstrators are assembled outside a Syrian government building, clearly shouting their opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

The protesters, many of them students, are aware of the severe risks of confronting the Syrian government. But this is not Damascus -- they are holding their protest in front of the Syrian Consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul, which has become a hub for the growing Syrian opposition movement.

Ironically, the students' presence in Turkey is a product of the once-close ties between the Syrian and Turkish governments; that is, before Turkey sided with the opposition.

One of the demonstrators is 20-year-old student Mughira al-Sharif. He came to Istanbul from the Syrian city of Derra to study computer engineering.

At a nearby coffee shop Sharif explains that, in between his studies, he has begun to devote more and more time to help bring down the Syrian regime.

"What we are doing in Istanbul is arranging and organizing protest rallies against the Syrian regime, the Assad regime," he says. "We do protests every week in different places and our aim is to support the people inside Syria, they need our support -- that's why we do this."

Sharif, along with fellow Syrian students, formed the Syrian Revolution Istanbul Committee. It's a loosely knit group that holds protests against the regime and keeps the brutality of the crackdown in Syria in the media spotlight.

'Syrian Regime Is Everywhere'

Much of Sharif's work is done at home. He's in his third apartment in eight months, and for security reasons, he will be moving again soon. The safety that comes with living in Istanbul is relative; as Sharif says, the Syrian regime has a reach that extends far beyond its own borders.

Mughira al-Sharif: "There is no family in Syria who has not lost a member."
Mughira al-Sharif: "There is no family in Syria who has not lost a member."
"We have been followed by the Syrian regime men in Istanbul. Even in this house, the house we are living in now, they came once -- it was in the middle of the night," Sharif says. "One of my friends told me that I received a message which says, 'We will burn you.' I myself have been threatened on Facebook and Skype. What I believe is that I should just keep moving."

Rumors of the Syrian security forces operating in Turkey are rife. One of the most infamous stories was about the leader of a militia made up of defectors from the Syrian Army. Earlier this year, he disappeared from a refugee camp only to reappear on Syrian television in Damascus.

Ominously, since then, nobody has heard from him. Sharif reckons he is almost certainly dead, but despite such concerns Sharif and his group continue their struggle against the regime.

'Every Family Has Lost A Member'

Much of that struggle is waged, hour after hour, on a computer. On their Facebook page, "Syrian Days of Rage," the activists "post the recent news, the latest articles, we do translate videos, to send them to Western media. Many channels and magazines just get our stuff from our page."

Sharif spends most days and nights getting the latest news out to the world from Syria through e-mail, Internet forums, and Skype.

The group also smuggles video cameras and smart phones into Syria. These gadgets are the main weapon for the opposition, Sharif says.

Later, as he heads off for another protest outside the Syrian Consulate, Sharif says he has since decided to put his university studies on hold to devote all his time to the struggle against the Syrian regime -- a struggle that has now become very personnel.

"Members of my family were detained yesterday, 40 members, more than 40 members. I don't know about their situation now, hopefully they will come out," Sharif says.

"But it's not only me, this is what I think, everybody is being followed. It is possible everybody can be detained or killed by the regime. There is no family in Syria who has not lost a member, you know."

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