“I don’t feel incredibly happy with myself, you know”
19th Feb | “An out Syrian lesbian’s thoughts on life, the universe and so on…” | Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari starts a new blog entitled ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’. She tells readers she has a Syrian father and an American mother, and that she lives in Syria as an openly gay woman.
21st Feb | “Syria is an oppressive police state. But I have set up a blog with my name and photo. Am I crazy? Maybe.”
19th Mar | “Today we are mourning the first martyrs of the revolution… and getting ready for the next stage.” Amina welcomes the spread of the Arab Spring to Syria.
28th April | “We are kissing in the airport itself, barely making it back to her apartment dressed.” | Amina writes about a fling with another Damascus woman.
6th May | “A Gay Girl in Damascus becomes a heroine of the Syrian revolt.” The Guardian publishes an interview with Amina, describing the blog as “brutally honest”. It later transpires that the interviewer had arranged to meet Amina but that she didn’t show up, claiming she had been followed. An email interview took place instead.
6th Jun | “Amina was seized by three men in their early twenties. According to the witness, the men were armed. Amina’s present location is unknown.”
A post by Rania Ismail, who claims to be Amina’s cousin, appears on the blog saying Amina has been abducted by security forces.
7th Jun | “Bagaria hasn’t slept since she heard the news” | The Global Montreal website interviews Amina’s Canadian girlfriend Sandra Bagaria about the abduction. Bagaria reveals she’s been in a relationship with Amina for six months, although they’ve never met or spoken to each other.
7th Jun | “On Monday evening, Arraf was silenced.” | The Guardian reports on Amina’s supposed abduction. To illustrate the article they use the photograph used on her Facebook page.
7th Jun | “#freeamina” | The Free Amina hashtag trends on Twitter. By the end of the day, the Free Amina group on Facebook has more than 10,000 members.
7th Jun | “It’s odd that I can’t find anybody who has met her in real life. Some people have raised questions so I’m investigating.” | Andy Carvin, an NPR journalist, Middle East specialist and expert on debunking internet hoaxes, explains on Twitter why he’s beginning to ask questions on the Amina case. He later clarifies that his source in the LGBT community in Damascus had expressed doubts about Amina’s existence.
8th Jun | “This is absolutely my picture. It was taken last year in Paris. Yesterday I saw my picture on a Guardian story and before I know it it’s everywhere.” Jelena Lecic, a Croatian woman living in London, appears on the BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ to confirm the photos used by the Free Amina campaign are of her. There are close to 200 photographs on Amina’s personal Facebook page, all of which are of Jelena Lecic.
8th Jun | “We and our colleagues in Washington are continuing to attempt to ascertain more information about Ms Arraf, including confirmation of her citizenship.” | Angela Williams from the US embassy in Damascus says they have no records of an American citizen called Amina Arraf living in Syria.
10th Jun | “I apologise to our readers for getting caught up in this exercise in fiction writing.” | The Lez Get Real website, which had been posting pieces by Amina dating back to February, tells its readers they believe they’ve been duped. Paula Brooks, executive editor of the site, says Amina only used two IP addresses based in Edinburgh when logging in to Lez Get Real servers.
12th Jun | “The information presented below connects the ‘Amina’ blogger to two people in real life: Thomas (Tom) J MacMaster and Britta Froelicher, who are married to each other.” | The website Electronic Intifada publishes the findings of its independent investigation.
12th Jun | “I am not the blogger in question… I understand there are a number of unusual coincidences regarding the blogger and either me or my wife. Those are, as far as I am concerned, simply unusual.”
Tom MacMaster emails Electronic Intifada to deny he is behind the Amina blog.
12th Jun | “I never expected this level of attention. I do not believe that I have harmed anyone – I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.” | A post on the Gay Girl in Damascus blog is signed “Tom MacMaster, Istanbul, Turkey, July 12 2011.”
12th Jun | “To Mr MacMaster, I say shame on you! What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry about our LGBT activism.” | The Damascus editor of the GayMiddleEast.com website responds to the news that Amina never existed.
13th Jun | “I don’t feel incredibly happy with myself, you know. I wish in retrospect I would have done things very, very differently.” | Tom MacMaster tells The Guardian that he’s sorry. He confirms that he’s a 40-year-old American masters student at the University of Edinburgh.
13th Jun | “I am the sole author of this blog and have always been so. I want to apologise to anyone I may have hurt or harmed in any way. I never meant to hurt anyone. I am really truly sorry and feel awful about this. I have hurt people with whom I share a side and a struggle.” | MacMaster, writing as himself, makes his penultimate post on the Gay Girl in Damascus blog.
13th Jun | “Amina often flirted with Brooks, neither of the men realising the other was also a man pretending to be a lesbian.” | The Washington Post reveals that Paula Brooks, the executive editor of Lez Get Real who’d helped expose the Amina hoax, is a 58-year-old retired construction worker from Ohio called Bill Graber.
21st Jun | “1,000,946 separate views of this blog. That’s over a million, so everything is vanishing.” | MacMaster’s final post, and now the only one now visible on the blog. Every other post has been deleted.
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