Approximately 40 UC Berkeley students silently protested violence against women in Syria on Thursday, carrying signs and covering their mouths with red tape to raise awareness of the issue.
Student protesters gathered on Upper Sproul Plaza to bring attention to women’s rights violations and the Syrian civil war, which has been going on for nearly two years.
“The U.S. people are starting to become more apathetic to what is happening in the Middle East, but with 70,000 Syrians dead and an unknown number of people being raped, then there is no more room for apathy,” said Samy Harmoush, the national project manager for the Syrian American Council, a nonprofit organization that helped plan the event.
Noma Kahf, a UC Berkeley sophomore and protest organizer, said that some people who walked by were unaware of the current conflict and were shocked to learn about some of the forms of torture being used during the civil war.
Over the course of the one-hour protest, participants held signs reading, “He stuck a rat in her vagina” and, “Sexual violence is why 1 million people have left Syria,” referencing atrocities committed in the civil unrest.
The explicit posters refer to a BBC news article in which a woman was sexually tortured by Syrian government officials. In the article, graphic details are included, which describe a young boy and an activist who were both arrested and raped while detained.
Kahf said organizers preferred a silent protest because it is a more respectful way to pay homage to the rape victims.
“A silent protest has a deeper meaning and makes people read our signs rather than have us chanting and shouting our protest,” said participant Hani Khater.
On the Facebook page announcing the protest, the organizers posted a petition urging First Lady Michelle Obama to condemn the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad for the rape of women in Syria. Kahf said the magnitude of the Syrian government’s power should be considered when one judges who is to blame for the atrocities.
“Human rights violations against anyone is wrong, no matter who does it,” Kahf said.
A year ago, student organizers set up a demonstration in which participants on Sproul Plaza acted out scenes of abuse from the civil war. Plans for the next event are still under way, according to Kahf.
Harmoush said the same type of protest has been planned at 15 other college campuses and that in April, there will be a forum on campus allowing Syrian women to share their stories.