Young Syrians rap in Berlin

Jailed for his activism in Syria, the rapper Abu Hajar and his band Mazzaj Rap are pursuing their fight for justice in Berlin. They've found freedom of expression in the city - but also face humiliation as refugees.

MC Abu Hajar is the 29-year-old lead rapper and chief songwriter for Mazzaj Rap. Granted political asylum in Berlin in late 2014, Abu Hajar calls himself an economist, musician and political activist. He was jailed for his music and activism by a Syrian dictatorship that has long used arbitrary detention to crush dissent.

When first detained by police as a university student in 2007, Abu Hajar was charged with distributing political pamphlets. But the real reason for his capture was the outlawed rap music he played, and a song he wrote that criticized honor killings of women by men in Syria. Banned from university, Abu Hajar relocated to Jordan to continue his studies but returned to Syria more regularly in early 2011 to join the first peaceful protests for civil rights.

Abu Hajar came to Berlin because its reputation for tolerance and diversity had long attracted Syrian political refugees. Since arriving, he has helped form a Syrian activist network that rallied hundreds at Brandenburg Gate in March to mark the fifth anniversary of the revolution. His music has also flourished as he records, performs and collaborates with musicians from around the world.

But despite his newfound freedom of expression, and a relationship with a German woman, Abu Hajar expresses deep frustration at living as a "humiliated refugee in Germany." For all the "Refugees are Welcome" signs in the capital, he says he has seen and experienced much racism.

Watching newly arrived refugees stand for days in the cold while waiting to be processed, Abu Hajar has documented how some were beaten and insulted by guards. The subject is a major theme of the new album he is now recording.

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