They are not afraid: Syrians abroad defy Assad regime

Yesterday I blogged about how Syrian embassies in at least eight countries are trying to intimidate expat Syrians. They don’t want them outside their embassy buildings in places like London or Washington or Paris, kicking up a fuss about the killings and torture back in Syria. 

Today Amnesty organised a defiant demo where about 50 Syrians not only went to demonstrate outside the Syrian embassy in London, but also with an “I am not afraid” message.

Given the possible repercussions for them or for relatives in Syria or elsewhere, this was bold and extremely brave. These protestors seem indefatigable. One of them told me today that they’ve been going to the embassy in London every Saturday for over six months. Sometimes they have extra demos on Fridays or on Tuesdays. Each lasts a few hours. Another young guy said he even feels guilty when he misses one “because look what they’re putting up with in Syria”.

Today three young Syrians who live in Glasgow had actually come all the way for the London demo. They’d set out at 2am and driven almost non-stop the 350 miles so as to be in Belgrave Square for nine o’clock. That’s commitment. One of these, Ahmad Larrson, was telling me that since he started organising small demos in George Square in Glasgow he’s been receiving threats on Facebook and that pro-Assad Syrian men have turned up at the demo and thrown insults his way.

More chillingly, his uncle back in Syria has been killed by unknown assailants. After a protest in Syria, some men jumped him, dragged him down an alleyway away from the crowds and murdered him. They later set fire to his body. Meanwhile, Ahmad says his father’s cousin has been shot – “he was hit with four bullets, in the liver, in the gut, here and here …” – after taking part in yet another protest in Syria. Ahmad says: “they definitely targeted him”.

Such is the nature of the violence in Syria that it’s not always clear if incidents like these are directly linked to visible political activities overseas. But in some cases there’s a clear pattern, with embassy officials in European and other capitals apparently tipping off the security forces back in Syria.

Amnesty’s Syria expert Neil Sammonds thinks that what is so far known is probably just the “tip of the iceberg” and that this global wave of intimidation is probably widespread. Certainly the French authorities have today expressed their concern after it emerged that Syrians in Paris are apparently being threatened and in some cases attacked. “We would not tolerate a foreign state organising acts of violence or intimidation on our territory, said the French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero, “and we have made this known in the clearest possible terms to Syria's ambassador in Paris”.

Today the Syrian protestors in London seemed amazingly resolute (the passion behind their chanting of things like “Free, Free Sy-r-ia” and “Children’s blood is everywhere“, was an unmistakable mark of this). Please add a solidarity photo to the Amnesty photo petition site if you'd like to signal your support.

Meanwhile, the government of Bashar al-Assad seems to know no limits when it comes to repression. Tragically there’s still no end in sight for Syrians struggling for their human rights …

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