As It Happens

How a Syrian broadcaster is fighting militants with weird radio

A Syrian jihadist group ordered the anti-regime Radio Fresh FM to stop playing music and broadcasting women's voices, claiming it was forbidden under Islam. So the station manager decided to fight censorship with sarcasm.
Raed Fares, left, is the station manager at Radio Fresh FM, a station in northern Syria that's standing up to militants who have banned them from playing music or broadcasting women's voices. (Raed Fares)

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Raed Fares has been fighting for freedom in Syria for six years — but the seasoned activist says he never uses a weapon.

Fares is the station manager at Radio Fresh FM in the small, rebel-held northern village of Kafranbel.

The activist broadcasters there have spoken out against the Syrian government, ISIS militants and, most recently, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), an al-Qaeda offshoot formerly known as the Nusra Front.

The station has come under repeated attack and Fares has been kidnapped and shot. But Radio Fresh continues to fight back with words, songs and sounds. 

The latest tool in their non-violent arsenal? A strange mix of farm animal noises, ticking clocks and distorted women's voices. 

JFS has demanded that Radio Fresh stop broadcasting music and women announcers, claiming it is haram, or an act forbidden under Islam.

For two years, Fares refused to comply.

"Finally, because they attacked the radio station more than three times and burned everything here and kidnapped me like three times — then I stopped playing the music, but chose to play something instead of that," Fares told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "I decided to play a sarcastic thing."

Instead of music, the station now broadcasts Arabic song lyrics over a mix of strange sounds "like sheep, like birds, frogs, dogs, chickens and everything," Fares said. 

Here's a sample:

"I don't want people, when they are listening to us, to think it's an Islamic radio station. So I have to put on something different," he said. "I want them just to think, to use their minds. Is it good? Is it right? Is it false? Is it truly haram?"

'You can move the minds'

The banned female newscasters have been replaced with one 23-year-old woman whose voice has been severely distorted, so it sounds almost like a robotic man.

Again, the idea is to challenge people's perceptions about Islam. 

"Is it really haram to hear women's voices?" Fares said. "You can move the minds. You can move the ideas."

This isn't Fares's first brush with danger.

In 2014, when ISIS was operating in the region, the militant group attacked the station, stole all the radio equipment and kidnapped three broadcasters, Fares said. 

He was in the U.S. at the time and he returned to Kafranbel with new equipment and set up shop again.

'If you want to survive, you have to use your humour. If you want to survive, you have to love."-  Raed  Fares, Radio Fresh FM

Shortly after, he said he was ambushed outside his home, shot three times and left to die.

Relatives found him bleeding in his driveway and took him hospital, where he spent four months recovering.

He didn't stop broadcasting then and he says he won't stop now. 

"I should be careful, but I'm not scared," he said. "If you want to survive, you have to use your humour. If you want to survive, you have to love."

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