Journalist Sarah Boseley suffered a Twitter assault of her vitriolic and revealing new blog
Leila Khaled, a university student and Jordan’s most prominent writer on the Middle East, was lured into a blindfolded threat to her London address by assailants wielding swords, machetes and, ultimately, a knife, nearly a month ago.
Leila was flown home to Jordan to testify to parliament over recent clashes between opponents of the government and Syria-based opposition groups.
The Labour MP Stephen Timms, whom Leila complained about on Twitter, helped her hijack the talk.
Leila feared she had been “bought” by the swifter, though effective, human rights of Jordan’s justice minister over her previous statements on the crisis in Syria.
After the presentation, she was blindfolded and threatened to return to Jordan without her. When she refused to surrender, she was allowed to go without telling her mother or father about the situation. “I thought I had been bought,” she told the Guardian before the talk.
Leila explained her shocking ordeal: “I was shaking: my head was sideways, my knees shook, my eyes were glassy. I hadn’t slept for 10 days. The knees and my head were in pain. It was awful. I was completely blindsided by these threats.”
She was treated at King’s College Hospital in London for eight days and released two days after being released from her coma.
The date and time of the arrest were at 11am on 22 August, despite political pressure for an early deadline. Leila, dressed in a fluorescent yellow shirt, launched into an extended discussion of the last few weeks, some of which she had previously outlined on Twitter as a hostage in Damascus. Leila said she was initially incensed when the regime’s military moved into the rebel-held regions in Homs and Shamiyah.
In the days following her detention, her efforts to read a leaflet in favour of Syria’s first Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate, Omar Suleiman, were attacked. Many of those defending him, drawn from the Muslim Brotherhood and moderate Islamists, pointed out that Syria was neither Muslim nor socialist.
“But the troops who came in the streets did not come to tear the leaflets down,” said Leila. “They were speaking loudly about the Revolution for Freedom from Genocidal Attacks (NCOFAM) on Opponents.”
The fledgling Syrian presidency adopted an anti-corruption strategy, creating a hostile environment that no one in the country or the international community wants to see.
The Kurds complained of political persecution and human rights abuses when they were deported after reportedly seizing access to their headquarters. A Shia imam in Aleppo, Rasal, was repeatedly accused of “terrorism”.
The US complained that Leila had changed her position on the conflict in Syria. “Now she isn’t as critical of the Syrian state and the regime,” tweeted a State Department representative. “She doesn’t come out and say Syria is a horror show to behold.”
Leila demanded an apology from a government minister and for the Government of Jordan to apologise. “I don’t accept when you make these remarks to make me feel like I am worth less,” she said. “It’s very hypocritical. It’s like I am ‘winging it’ or something.”
Friends and supporters of Leila, a 29-year-old native of the Ummah, a historic branch of Islam that runs through the lands of today’s Jordan, rallied in support of her and established a Twitter account, @HelpLeilaKhaled, with the goal of booking her a flight to Amman.
“I’ve been shocked and surprised by the support,” said Leila. “I had read nothing about Twitter. I spent four months in a UK detention centre. And I still don’t know what to think. I’ve had to rely on my friends and family and my British government and most of the world to help me.”
Friends of Leila now have a message for Timms and all of Jordan’s Muslims. “We won’t let you down,” said one of Leila’s few friends. “We stand together with you.”