Part One: Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (@Raqqa_SL)
What the international community knows about life in Raqqa under the brutally oppressive rule of Daesh, it knows because of the brave work of the anonymous activists that make up the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), recently awarded the Committee To Protect Journalists' International Press Freedom Award.
In April 2014, four months after the city fell to the militant group, 17 activists and natives of Raqqa – men and women who had risen up against the Assad regime only to find themselves under the brutal rule of another – got together and decided to document life under Daesh. By that time, Raqqa had transformed from a normal Syrian city where children went to school, Christians and Muslims lived side by side, and women worked in offices, clinics and restaurants, to a city draped in black – to match the militant group's ominous flag. RBSS activists started using their cellphones to record and disseminate videos and images of public lashings, beheadings, sexual abuse, and other instances of oppression.
Within weeks of launching, Daesh had dubbed the group an “enemy of god” and sought to punish any and all those they deemed affiliated with it. Soon after, RBSS witnessed the death of one of its founding members.
Al-Moutaz Bellah Ibrahim, 21, was kidnapped and held by Daesh for three weeks before being executed in a public square in Raqqa. Shocked and saddened, but refusing to give up, his colleagues decided to bolster and further secure their means of communication. Some left the city for Turkey and other countries in Europe, and took over responsibility for most of the social media aspect of their work. Others remained on the ground and found ways to covertly supply their colleagues on the outside, and in turn, the world beyond, with a constant stream of news from the war.
RBSS now has around 44,000 avid followers on Twitter and just under 200,000 on Facebook. They are relied on by various international media organisations for first-hand reports of daily life inside a city where most people live fearing both the wrath of Daesh and the indiscriminate airstrikes of the U.S.-led coalition against it. IFEX reached out to Tim Ramadan (not his real name) who now lives in Urfa and handles some of the group's operations from there.
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