Images smuggled out of Syria by former military photographer to be shown in public space following allegations of censorship
A warning at the exhibition of the ‘Caesar’ photographs at the UN headquarters in New York.
Kareem Shaheen in Beirut
The European parliament will allow a collection of photographs that international lawyers say shows “systematic torture and killing” by Syrian government forces to be displayed in public on the legislature’s grounds, reversing an earlier decision that exposed it to accusations of censorship.
The exhibition, which includes photographs smuggled out of the country by a former military photographer, will now be hosted at a public space and officially sanctioned by the parliament, with warning signs about the graphic nature of the images and restricting children from entry.
“It is a sensible compromise,” said Alyn Smith, a Scottish National Party MEP and lead sponsor of the exhibit, who confirmed the decision.
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The Guardian reported last month that the College of Quaestors, a group of five MEPs that is tasked with deciding such matters, had ruled against exhibiting the images at the parliament after deeming them too “offensive and disturbing”, as well as provocative.
The college rejected potential compromises, including reducing the number of days the exhibit was to be held on and adding warning signs to the images.
The decision prompted criticism by Syrian opposition groups and a social media campaign using the hashtag #HidingTorture, and the criticism raised concerns among parliament officials that the legislature’s image may be tarnished by the decision.
Smith also appealed to the parliament’s president, Martin Schulz, asking him to intervene and overturn the college’s decision, which he did.
The parliament holds an annual exhibit on the Holocaust, and the UN headquarters in New York has allowed these images to be displayed there, with western officials saying at the time that the world had a duty not to turn away from the gruesome reality portrayed in the pictures.
The exhibit is now set to be held in a public area of the parliament’s grounds on 13-16 July, after the photographs were reviewed personally by Schulz.
“This is an important victory,” said James Sadri, campaign manager at the Syria Campaign, which organised a petition urging the parliament to reverse its decision. “If European politicians won’t even look at pictures of human rights abuses in Syria what hope is there that they’ll do anything to stop them happening?”
“Rather than send gunships to stop refugees crossing the Mediterranean these European politicians should do more to stop what these Syrians are fleeing in the first place,” he added.