Death of Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb
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Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb
حمزة علي الخطيب
October 24, 1997
|Died||May 25, 2011 (aged 13)|
|Cause of death||Torture and mutilation and/or gunshot|
|Known for||Detainment, torture and murder that sparked Syrian protests|
Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb (Arabic: حمزة علي الخطيب) (October 24, 1997 – May 25, 2011) was a 13-year-old Syrian boy who died while in the custody of the Syrian government in Daraa. On April 29, 2011, he was detained during a protest. On May 25, 2011, his body was delivered to his family, having been badly bruised, along with burn marks, three gunshot wounds, and severed genitals. Hamza's family distributed photos and video of his body to journalists and activists. Shocked by what was depicted, thousands of people showed their support for Hamza online and in street protests.
Hamza lived with his parents in the village of al-Jeezah in Daraa Governorate. He enjoyed watching his homing pigeons fly above his house since drought had left him unable to enjoy swimming. He had a reputation for being generous. "He would often ask his parents for money to give to the poor. I remember once he wanted to give someone 100 Syrian Pounds ($2), and his family said it was too much. But Hamza said, 'I have a bed and food while that guy has nothing.' And so he persuaded his parents to give the poor man the 100," his cousin told Al Jazeera.
Al-Jazeera reported that he was not interested in politics, according to an unnamed cousin, but on April 29, 2011, he joined his family in a rally to break the siege of the city of Daraa. "Everybody seemed to be going to the protest, so he went along as well," said his cousin. Hamza walked with friends and family 12 km along the road from al-Jeezah north-west to Saida. Firing began almost as the protesters reached Saida. Hamza's cousin reported: "People were killed and wounded, some were arrested. It was chaotic we didn't know at that point what had happened to Hamza. He just disappeared." One source says that Hamza had been among 51 protesters detained by Air Force Intelligence, which detainees allegedly described as having a reputation for brutal torture.
A video of his body filmed several days after his death showed numerous injuries, including broken bones, gunshot wounds, burn marks, and mutilated genitals. The Globe and Mail summarized: "His jaw and both kneecaps had been smashed. His flesh was covered with cigarette burns. His penis had been cut off. Other injuries appeared to be consistent with the use of electroshock devices and being whipped with a cable."
Following the broadcast, by Al Jazeera, of a video showing Hamza's body there was widespread outrage, both online and amongst the protesters in Syria.
In response to Al Jazeera's story, the chief of Syria's medical examiners association, Dr. Akram El-Shaar, denied that Hamza was tortured. El-Shaar said that he supervised the autopsy in Damascus and that the boy did not have any sign of torture. He also claimed that Hamza had been shot in the Daraa riot and that all signs of disfigurement were due to decay.
Backlash and impact
Hamza's name became a rallying cry for protesters. A Facebook page honouring him had more than 105,000 followers by May 2011. Following the pattern of demonstrators calling Fridays a "day of rage", Saturdays in Syria were called the "day of Hamza".
On May 31, 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton marked his death as a turning point in the Syrian uprising, indicating that it "symbolises for many Syrians ... the total collapse of any effort by the Syrian government to work with and listen to their own people".
On March 14, 2012, The Guardian released 3,000 emails leaked from Asma al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad's wife, and her father, Fawas Akhras. Akhras had emailed Bashar al-Assad, instructing him to respond to allegations that children are tortured in Syria by dismissing it as "British propaganda".
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- Londo, Ernesto (2011-05-29). "Apparent torture of boy propelled Syria's protest movement". Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
- Sonia Verma. "How a 13-year-old became a symbol of Syrian revolution". Toronto: The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
- Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand. "Tortured and killed: Hamza al-Khateeb, age 13 - Features". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
- Sundby, Alex. "Syrian boy's brutal death rouses protesters". Cbsnews.com. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
- "حريات وحقوق - أخبار - تعذيب حتى الموت في سوريا". Aljazeera.net. 2011-05-27. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
- "The story of Hamza a 13-year-old boy - CNN iReport". Ireport.cnn.com. 2011-05-27. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
- Londo, Ernesto (2011-05-29). "Torture of boy reinvigorates Syria's protest movement". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
- "The True Story of Hamza al-Khateeb's Death Belies Media Fabrications". Syrian Arab News Agency: SANA, Damascus Syria - syria news. Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
- كلنا الشهيد الطفل حمزة علي الخطيب. Facebook (in Arabic). May 2011. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
- "API report, "Clinton says death, alleged tortured of boy shows 'total collapse' of Syria's reform effort"". Reuters via Dawn.com. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
- Booth, Robert (2012-03-15). "Assad emails: father-in-law gave advice from UK during crackdown". The Guardian. London.