Syria’s government has made it a crime to have an iPhone.
It’s the latest move by President Bashar al-Assad to silence increasing numbers of protesters calling for political reforms and his removal from office. Like other uprisings in the region, collectively known as the Arab Spring, the movement in Syria has been fueled by modern social-networking tools like Facebook and Twitter.
Smartphones, such as Apple’s iPhone, have been an invaluable tool to protest groups, by allowing the distribution of information, photographs, and videos in a timely and flexible manner. There is even an iPhone app named Souria Wa Bas, which translates to Syria Alone, to deliver news beyond the reach of government censors, a Syria map with local information about more than 100 areas, and even jokes that make fun of the president.
While it’s unclear why the Syria government specifically banned the use of iPhones (other types of smartphones are still allowed), the presence of the Souria Wa Bas app in the iTunes App Store may have been a key factor. “The authorities warn anyone against using the iPhone in Syria,” reads a statement issued by the Customs Department of the Syrian Finance Ministry.
The new ruling doesn’t just apply to Syrian citizens, but also to foreigners visiting the country. According to one activist, who declined to identify themselves out of fear of government reprisals, Syrian border officials have targeted those carrying iPhones for interrogation. “It is enough for any tourist or guest visiting Syria to own an iPhone to be a spy suspect,” he said.
Photo: Maggie Osama