As we noted earlier today, a video allegedly showing the mutilated, castrated, and bullet-riddled corpse of a 13-year-old boy named Hamza Ali al-Khateeb has galvanized the Syrian protest movement. To Syrian activists, Hamza's story epitomizes the Syrian regime's merciless crackdown on anti-government demonstrators. To Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it signifies the "total collapse of any effort by the Syrian government to work with and listen to their own people." But to Syria's state-run media, the tale amounts to nothing more than "lies and false accounts" spread by "satellite channels and websites." The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) has just published an article giving its version of events surrounding Hamza's death. Here's how its account differs from Al Jazeera's:
- Hamza's Involvement in Protests: SANA claims that "armed groups," responding to "calls for Jihad," arrived in the village of Saida near the southern city of Daraa on April 29 and "succeeded in misleading many young children" who were listening to "calls for Jihad" during Friday prayers and carrying "sharp arms" to fire at Syrian guards at a "military housing compound." Hamza, SANA adds, was found dead after the fighting and sent to a hospital to be identified. Al Jazeera says Hamza was detained on the same day in the same place by a unit of security forces notorious for torture during a protest against the siege in Daraa. He attended, a cousin tells Al Jazeera, because "everybody seemed to be going to the protest."
- Hamza's Wounds: SANA, quoting a coroner, states that Hamza died from three gunshots and that "there weren't any traces of violence, resistance or torture or any kinds of bruises, fractures, joint displacements or cuts." The Syrian news agency adds that the gruesome photos of Hamza circulating on the Internet "were taken after an advanced stage of disintegration after death." Al Jazeera reports that Hamza "spent nearly a month in the custody of Syrian security" and that his corpse, when finally returned, "bore the scars of brutal torture." Al Jazeera adds that "experienced local journalists and human rights researchers found no reason to doubt the authenticity of the footage of Hamza."
- The Return of Hamza's Body: Once the corpse was identified as Hamza, SANA writes, "it was handed over to the martyr's family" on May 21. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Hamza's family and offered them condolences, SANA adds, and Hamza's father said Assad was "gentle and kind" and promised reforms. Al Jazeera claims Hamza's father wanted to press charges against the army and security forces but was briefly detained on Saturday and threatened by secret police, who demanded he tell "state media that Hamza was killed by armed Salafists, Sunni Muslim extremists."
*Correction: We previously quoted SANA (English) as saying that Hamza was a "plump young man in his twenties" rather than a 13-year-old boy, as other outlets are reporting. But, as commenter Sate Hamza pointed out below, the Arabic-language version of SANA's report actually says Hamza was in his "second decade." In other words, he was a teenager.