Sofyan Aswad: Sofyan Aswad:”Two letters can land you in prison”
In my native country I left my job as a field reporter to start working as a war correspondent. Perhaps it was because I love excitement. As a war correspondent in Syria I often met and worked alongside the police, and saw them check out people at passages between the conflict zones. I always noticed how they checked people and spoke to them. I once asked the man in charge of one of the checkpoints: Do you have any particular strategy you follow when you check people? He flatly denied.
But what do you do when you're in the middle of a war zone and have no technical means to investigate people who turn up from areas controlled by the extreme groups?
– Ask questions, look into their eyes, pay attention to their build, see if there is sweat on their forehead, watch how they move their hands, he told me.
”Some were co-operative, others less so. They were afraid to be seen on TV”Sofyan Aswad
In fact I was once sitting at a checkpoint, trying to make a report about people who came from areas controlled by the extremist groups. Some were co-operative, others less so. They were afraid to be seen on TV.
Suddenly I heard the voice of one of the soldiers shouting, 'Get down! Down on the ground!' For a moment I thought I was going to die. I thought someone had managed to get to the checkpoint with a bomb or something similar. I went to the place where the sounds came from. A man was lying on the ground holding a machine-gun.
”But the police tested him to find out if he was a civilian or a fighter with the extremists”Sofyan Aswad
But on the weapon there was a symbol showing that the weapon belonged to the Syrian government and not to the extremists.
I asked a few questions and it turned out that the man was under suspicion because he came from the other side and said that he wanted peace and did not want to live close to the extremists. But the police tested him to find out if he was a civilian or a fighter with the extremists.
They made him wait for half an hour beside a machine-gun (which he did not know was not loaded). Then one of the officers told him to pick up the gun. He picked it up, and after a few steps one of the officers shouted,'Get down on the floor!' He was holding the weapon like a professional, which showed that he was a professional soldier. After a while I made some enquiries about the person, and it turned out that he was in fact an extremist soldier. He had marks on his shoulder caused by carrying a machine-gun when he served for a long time as a guard at one of the extremists' strongholds.
What caused the official to doubt this person was his appearance. And something like that happened to me just the other day. I was at the gym with a friend. We agreed that I should help him to pump up the tyres of his wheelchair. We finished our training, and he said, 'See you tomorrow'. I thought I answered, 'I'll come after work and pump up your tyres', but what my friend heard was ,'I'll come after work and blow up your tyres'. Someone who overheard us gave me a suspicious look.
'What are you going to blow up? I'm going to ring the police.'
I explained to him that I was going to pump up the tyres, not blow them up, We had a good laugh, and he said, 'You don't look like a dangerous person, but remember, two letters can land you in prison'.