Is The Kidnapped Syrian Lesbian Blogger A Hoax?

Activists are calling for an investigation into the alleged kidnapping of Syrian blogger Amina Arraf. But others are investigating something else: whether she even exists.

Earlier this week, a cousin of Arraf's posted on her blog, A Gay Girl in Damascus, that she had been kidnapped. Now the website Avaaz has launched a petition asking for "Amina's immediate release, an end to the violent crackdown, and for all political prisoners to be freed." A separate petition launched by Change.org "calls upon Secretary Clinton and the US State Department to investigate Ms. Arraf's disappearance, and pressure the Syrian government to secure her safe release." On Monday, her cousin posted, "I have been on the telephone with both her parents and all that we can say right now is that she is missing. Her father is desperately trying to find out where she is and who has taken her."

But some people are trying to find out who she is. Last night, the Times Lede blog posted the following update:

After this post about the author of the blog A Gay Girl in Damascus was published, Andy Carvin, an NPR journalist and expert at debunking Internet rumors, pointed out that none of the reports of the arrest of Amina Abdallah Arraf appeared to have been written by journalists who had previously met or interviewed her. A few hours after Mr. Carvin asked his network of followers on Twitter, "has anyone met Amina (Gay Girl In Damascus) in person?" he observed: "It's just odd that I can't find anyone who has actually met her in person."

The Lede also notes that an earlier blog under Arraf's name, described as "samples of fiction and literature I am working on," published some of the same content as A Gay Girl in Damascus. And, in another twist, a photo circulated as depicting Arraf (above) appears to show a London woman named Jelena Lecic instead — Lecic's publicist says it was lifted from her Facebook account.

So could Arraf be a hoax? Some are defending her — Mona Eltahawy tweeted this morning, "I don't care what her real name is or what her father's name us. #FreeAmina and thousands of others held by #Assad regime." Others, however, are calling for more evidence of her identity: writer-editor Ruwayda Mustafah tweets, "Is it possible to get in touch with Amina's father, perhaps he can show images of her?"

Of course, providing real photos of Arraf might put her in more danger. And given that she's long expressed fear for her safety on her blog, it's not surprising that she's kept a low profile and avoided meeting too many people in person. But the circulation of Lecic's photo is somewhat suspicious — and if Arraf's kidnapping is indeed a hoax, a lot of people are going to feel betrayed. On the other hand, Arraf has put a face (even if it's a false one) to a larger problem in Syria — social change researcher Tanya Notley tweets, "Over 10,000 people have been arrested in past 3 months in Syria. Why focus on one person only?" Ultimately, Arraf's story has helped focus the world's attention on the crisis in Syria, which may be worthwhile whether the story is true or not.

After Report Of Disappearance, Questions About Syrian-American Blogger [NYT Lede Blog]
Release Abducted Syrian-American Blogger Amina Arraf ("A Gay Girl in Damascus") [Change.org]
Syria: Free Amina [Avaaz]
Photos Of Syrian-American Blogger Called Into Question [WSJ]