Over the past few weeks in the northern city of Hama, Syria, up to 200,000 residents would gather nightly in al-Aqsi Square to do their part in the Arab uprisings. Most nights, Ibrahim Kashoush, popularly known as "the singer of the revolution", would perform political songs that expressed the defiance of the people. That ended abruptly on 5 July, when his throat was slit by security forces amid a series of deadly raids, reports the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI).
His murder is the ultimate sign that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is determined to win the propaganda war, says Index on Censorship.
One of Kashoush's songs, "Leave us, Bashar", directly addresses the President and ridicules his talk of reform. Watch a video of it here:
According to Human Rights Watch, security forces had been largely absent from Hama since 3 June, when they opened fire on anti-government protesters, killing at least 60 people. In the following weeks, Hama residents took to the streets for regular protests that have been consistently peaceful. On 1 July, they boasted the largest anti-government demonstration in Syria during the recent uprisings.
But its scale must have alarmed the regime; in the following days, security forces began a campaign of early morning raids and arrests. They opened fire in certain areas and killed at least 16, reports Human Rights Watch. And then there's Kashoush's brutal demise.
"Hama is the latest city to fall victim to President Bashar al-Assad's security forces despite his promises that his government would tolerate peaceful protests," said Human Rights Watch. "Security forces have responded to protests with the brutality that's become familiar over the past several months."
"The full significance of Kashoush's murder can only be understood in relation to the regime's two main mechanisms of control: propaganda and violence," says Salwa Ismail, writing for Index.
According to Ismail, al-Assad has resuscitated the cult of the "eternal leader", popularised by his father, which includes weaving symbols of patriotism into photographs of the President and plastering them across public spaces. In rallies organised by the regime, supporters shout slogans of loyalty and pledge their willingness to sacrifice themselves for their leader.
But to keep the regime going and the cult active, opponents needed to be eradicated "through murder, large-scale killings, sieges of towns and cities, and the deployment of tanks and soldiers to subdue a population that has risen to demand freedom and basic civil liberties as a matter of right," says Ismail. "The defiant public expression of this aspiration undermines the two pillars of the regime, the simulated love of the leader and the unspoken fear of his wrath."
According to ANHRI, thousands of demonstrators have been killed and an undisclosed number of individuals have been detained or disappeared since the protests erupted. Meanwhile, the few foreign journalists who have been allowed in are closely minded and given a limited view of what is happening, reports the International Press Institute (IPI).
"It was difficult to tell whether it was staged or if people were coming up to us of their own free will," CNN's Arwa Damon told IPI. She was one of the first Western journalists to broadcast from Damascus on the current crisis. "There's a bit of hostility to foreign media and blaming Western media, especially the United States and Israel. People are very angry and certainly feel passionate about the situation.
"When it came to finding anti-government opinions, it was another process. People will whisper, walk by while I was talking to someone and say they're lying, stick notes with messages in my hand" she added. "They want to talk. They're so desperate and feel they're being drowned out."
But Assad shows no sign of backing down, and neither do the protesters. "It's going to be a long process," said Damon. "Whichever way it plays out, change has to happen. Activists will tell you that they cannot go back. This is the point of no return. [They'll say] either the regime falls or the regime has to massacre all of them."