Syria's Embassy staff in UK threatening expat protestors - new report

Syrians in the UK are being threatened by Syrian embassy officials in the UK, apparently as part of a systematic effort by the Syrian regime to intimidate those who protest against the government in various countries, said Amnesty International today.

In a new report, The Long Reach of the Mukhabaraat (pdf), Amnesty cites more than 30 cases where activists in eight countries - Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the USA - have said they’ve faced intimidation from embassy officials and others, and that in some cases their relatives in Syria have been exposed to harassment, detention and even torture.

Syrian embassy staff have reportedly filmed and photographed protests outside the embassy, phoned protesters and visited them at their homes in the UK, made threats against them (including that they would face the death penalty on return to Syria and that their families in Syria would be harmed), and have encouraged them to spread pro-regime propaganda and join pro-regime rallies. Several have said that security forces have visited and questioned family members in Syria, in at least one case briefly detaining one of them and in another vandalising the family home.

After protesting outside the Syrian embassy in London one Syrian was phoned and told: “You are with the Israelis and the Muslim Brotherhood and so will get the death penalty too.” Soon after his brother in Dera’a was taken away from his home by men believed to be from Military Intelligence (part of the mukhabaraat, or network of Syrian intelligence services). He was released after four hours but has since gone into hiding.

Amnesty International Syria researcher Neil Sammonds said:

“Expatriate Syrians have been trying, through peaceful protest, to highlight abuses that we consider amount to crimes against humanity - and that presents a threat to the Syrian regime.

“In response the regime appears to have waged a systematic - sometimes violent - campaign to intimidate Syrians overseas into silence.”

“This is yet more evidence that the Syrian government will not tolerate legitimate dissent and is prepared to go to great lengths to muzzle those who challenge it publicly.”

In another case, from the USA, the mother and father of Malek Jandali were attacked at their home in Homs after the 38-year-old, who is a pianist and composer, had performed at a pro-reform demonstration in front of the White House in July. Malek told Amnesty his parents were beaten and locked in a bathroom while their flat was looted. The agents told his parents: “This is what happens when your son mocks the government.” They have since fled the country.
 
Some families in Syria have apparently been forced to publicly disown their relatives overseas. Sondos Sulaiman recorded a video in June from Germany calling on her fellow Alawites - the minority group to which the ruling al-Assad family belongs - to stand up to the regime. She told Amnesty: “My brother appeared on Syrian state TV denouncing this video and saying bad things about me to ruin my credibility. I’m sure he would not have done this out of his own free will.” Sondos has been unable to contact any of her family to confirm what is happening to them, in particular her brother.
 
Amnesty said there was a need for host countries to take stronger action against Syrian embassies accused of orchestrating this kind of harassment and intimidation, and called on the countries concerned to protect the right to freedom of association and expression.
 
The organisation understands that the UK and US governments have raised the issue with the Syrian ambassadors to London and Washington, while protesters in Spain told Amnesty they were lodging a formal complaint through the local legal system.
 
Neil Sammonds added:

"We look to host governments to act on credible allegations of abuses without waiting for formal complaints.

“Many of the people we have spoken to are too scared of what could happen to them to make formal complaints with the police. We would expect that any official found responsible for such acts should be prosecuted, or - if diplomatic immunity prevents that - asked to leave the country."

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