Syrian ambassador experiences dress down Thursday

News that the Syrian ambassador to the UK, Dr Sami Khiyami, has been given a diplomatic dressing down about Syrian embassy officials intimidating ex-pat Syrians living in Britain is a welcome development.

I blogged about this sinister bit of Syrian "outreach" last week, including how one brave group of UK-based Syrians refuses to be cowed by threats and defiantly turns up outside the Syrian embassy in London on a regular basis. Good for them. (Amnesty has a photo campaign to show solidarity with them – go here).

William Hague told parliament yesterday that the Syrian ambassador was told “that any harassment or intimidation of Syrians in our country is unacceptable and will not be tolerated”.

The Syrian ambassador will now know his way to the Foreign Office pretty well. The Times (£) says that yesterday's telling off – delivered by Sir Geoffrey Adams, the FCO's political director – was the third one Dr Khiyami has had on the issue this year. (You'll remember that Khiyami was in the news back in April when there was that controversy over him getting an invite to William and Kate's wedding. The invite was eventually withdrawn).

An Amnesty report has talked about a "systematic campaign" of intimidation of overseas Syrians in at least eight countries. The arrest this week in Virginia, USA of Mohamad Anas Heitham Soueid, a Syrian-born, US naturalised man on spying charges seems to be part of this. He’s accused of filming Syrian protestors in the US and feeding information to the Syrian embassy in Washington as well as sending it back to Damascus.

The long reach of Syrian intelligence is a worrying issue right now, though in fact the activities of the Mukhabaraat have been a concern for some time. Christopher Hitchens' new book – Arguably – touches on this, and in one serialised installment for Radio 4's Book Of The Week called "The Swastika and the Cedar", you hear about the alleged involvement of Syrian intelligence in various crimes in neighbouring Lebanon.

In the end, though, the real harm is being done in Syria itself. Tonight’s Channel 4 Unreported World is “Undercover Syria”, a powerful sounding glimpse of how terrifying it is to be a perceived enemy of the authorities in Syrian right now. The United Nations now puts the death toll from the anti-protest crackdown at 3,000 people. We’re talking 9/11-scale death toll.

To re-use a phrase from a few years ago, it’s a scar on the world’s conscience that so little is being done to stop mass human rights violations in Syria. William Hague is right to condemn Russia and China for recently blocking even a modest resolution at the UN (“It is a mistake on their part to side with a brutal regime rather than with the people of Syria”, he said).

We need the UN Security Council to act. To freeze all of the regime’s assets, to impose an arms embargo and to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court for investigation. How many more people must die in Syria before this happens?

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