The Syrian regime's brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrations--which has reportedly resulted in over 1,100 deaths and 10,000 detentions since the uprising erupted in mid-March--drew condemnation on Monday from U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay, who called the government's response "shocking" in its "outright disregard for basic human rights." And this week, as Syrian security forces backed by tanks, artillery, and helicopters move into towns around the central city of Homs, the protest movement is rallying around one particular human rights violation: the apparent torture and murder of a 13-year-old boy named Hamza Ali al-Khateeb.
Al-Khateeb, The New York Times explains, was arrested at a protest in a village near the southern city of Dara'a in late April and then not heard from for a month. Activists say his corpse was later returned to his family on the condition that they not speak publicly of their son's death, according to activists. Instead, the family appears to have helped produce a video documenting Hamza's torture. The extremely disturbing video--which appears to have been removed from YouTube but exists in several other versions, including this Al Jazeera report--pans across Hamza's mutilated corpse as a narrator points to Hamza's cigarette burns, bullet wounds, shattered jaw and kneecaps, broken neck, and severed penis. "These are the reforms of the treacherous Bashar," a narrator declares, in reference to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "Where are the international criminal tribunals?"
The graphic footage has engendered a Facebook page in honor of the "child martyr" with over 60,000 supporters and demonstrations in several Syrian cities in solidarity with the boy. On the pro-regime TV station Al Dunia, meanwhile, a forensic doctor who claimed to have supervised Hamza's autopsy argued that the marks on his body were caused by natural decomposition, not torture.
What impact will the video ultimately have on the Syrian uprising? That's difficult to assess, The Times notes, but the recent Mideast uprisings have been galvanized by the "violent deaths of young people at the hands of the state." In Tunisia, the paper explains, "the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old fruit vendor humiliated by police officers who confiscated his cart. In Egypt, the death last summer of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old man dragged out of an Internet cafe and killed by plainclothes police a block from his home, was a rallying cry for the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square."