Amnesty charges Syria with global intimidation
Syrian embassy personnel accused of using violence and intimidation to silence anti-Bashar protesters
THE SYRIAN government has been accused of using diplomats and officials at its embassies worldwide to wage a "systematic" campaign of violence and intimidation against Syrians living abroad who openly criticise the regime of President Bashar al–Assad.
More than 30 cases in eight countries have been documented in a new report by Amnesty International which looks at the harassment of expatriate Syrian protesters and the targeting of their families back in Syria.
Amnesty's Neil Sammonds, who compiled the report, said that many cases went unreported and that this was just the "tip of the iceberg".
Here are just three of the cases unearthed by Sammonds:
• Malek Jandali, a 38-year-old Syrian composer and pianist living in the United States, performed at a pro-reform demonstration outside the White House on July 23. Four days later, military intelligence agents forced their way into his parents’ house in Homs, Syria, and attacked them. "Several of my mum's teeth were broken, there was blood on her clothes, the bed and the wall," Jandali told Amnesty. "They beat my dad too.” Jandali said the agents told his father: “This is what happens when your son mocks the government.”
• Rabee al Hayek, a 35-year-old engineer living in France, was one of a group of pro-reform protesters who were attacked by a gang of men and women carrying pro-Bashar al-Assad flags in Paris on August 26. When police arrived, the protesters were told that two of the aggressors held diplomatic passports and could not be prosecuted. A couple of hours later, some of the demonstrators were attacked again with baseball bats by the same group of people. The French government later denied the attackers were diplomats, but Amnesty's Sammonds told The First Post that he had heard from "very, very good sources that that is not the case. I suspect that a message has been sent privately to the embassy to say that that shouldn't have happened."
• Iman al-Baghdady and her husband had been in Sweden for a year when they began video-blogging and using social media to raise awareness of the situation back home in Syria. On May 27 al-Baghdady received a letter in Arabic saying: "Keep quiet or neither you, nor your family in Syria is safe". It used Iman's maiden name, which she says only the embassy could have known. Shortly afterwards, she said her brother in Damascus was "arrested and tortured. They broke both his hands. They then forced him to sign a document where he promised that my family would repudiate me." When she later spoke about Syria on a Swedish radio station, a new letter arrived saying: "We recognise your voice and we know who you are".
Sammonds said that the cross-over between Syrian embassy personnel and the Syrian intelligence services, the mukhabaraat, is a "grey-area", but that he guesses that "most embassy workers would have a strong connection with them".
In the US, cases of intimidation have dramatically slowed after the Syrian ambassador was summoned twice to be told it was unacceptable. In other countries, however, including the UK, such tactics have continued largely unchecked.
An editorial in The Times today points out that despite the Foreign and Commonwealth Office urging people to report instances of intimidation, their complaints "appear to have been stalled or ignored". Further, it names vice-consul Mohammad Samouri as Syria’s chief intelligence representative in the UK, adding that "No nation should be allowed to stuff its embassy with thugs disguised as diplomats". ·
Comments are now closed on this article