Activists slam Syria "Gay Girl" blog hoax

LONDON Mon Jun 13, 2011 6:14pm IST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Gay and political activists reacted angrily on Monday after discovering a blog purportedly written by a gay woman detained by Syrian authorities was the work of an American university student living in Scotland.

Campaigners said the man had harmed their cause and potentially endangered lives.

"A Gay Girl in Damascus" has since February claimed to have documented the life of lesbian activist, 25-year-old Amina Abdallah Arraf al-Omari, in the capital during the civil unrest and quickly gained a worldwide readership.

The blog was closely followed by campaigners and gay activists in Syria and the Middle East who even launched an online campaign to secure her release after one blog entry spoke of her arrest by armed men believed to have been linked to President Bashar al-Assad's Baath party.

On Sunday, however, Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old American student at the University of Edinburgh, stepped out of the shadows and issued an apology on his blog site, saying he was "the sole author of all posts on this blog".

Sami Hamwi, the pseudonym for the Damascus editor of GayMiddleEast.com, wrote on its website: "I say shame on you!!! There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country."

We have to deal with more difficulties than you can imagine. What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us fearful about (pursuing) our...activism," Hamwi said.

"Your apology is not accepted, since I have myself started to investigate Amina's arrest. I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure."

The revelation attracted considerable commentary on Twitter.

One user said: "Good work Tom MacMaster, now every piece of information not related to the Syrian government will be tainted with a thread of doubt."

Speaking to BBC Scotland MacMaster said the entries had all been fictional, but that the facts behind the narrative were true. "So I invented a name to talk under that would keep the focus on the actual issue," he said.

In his blog apology he wrote the most important thing was "to get the information out".

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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