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Syrian Embassies Accused of Threatening Activists Overseas

  • Henry Ridgwell

A woman holds a Syrian flag as Jordanians and Syrians protest against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Amman, Jordan, October 3, 2011.

A woman holds a Syrian flag as Jordanians and Syrians protest against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Amman, Jordan, October 3, 2011.

Syrian embassies are being accused of carrying out a campaign of intimidation against activists and protesters living abroad. Meanwhile, Russia and China have vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria's government and threatening it with sanctions if security forces there do not immediately halt their brutal military crackdown against civilian protesters.

France, Britain, Germany and Portugal drafted the resolution, which they revised three times in an attempt to avoid the vetoes. The watered-down measure received nine votes in favor and four abstentions (Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil and India) in Tuesday's vote.

Human rights group Amnesty International says there also are allegations of retaliation by the authorities against the activists’ relatives in Syria, including torture and abduction.

Activists have been staging regular demonstrations outside the Syrian embassy in London against President Bashar al-Assad’s government, in solidarity with the anti-government protesters inside the country.

Ever since fleeing Syria for Britain after being released from prison there in the 1980s, Ghias Aljundi has attended many of the recent protests.

“I received a phone call from someone who claimed to be from the embassy asking me to stop demonstrating and acting against the regime. And the person stated that I am under their control so they can reach me anytime they want, and they can reach my family. My family is back in Syria, all of them,” said Aljundi.

Systematic intimidation

Aljundi said he knows dozens of Syrian expatriates living in Britain who have faced similar threats.

“So many people received emails, phone calls, or in person. Not only activists against the regime, they focused on students and those Syrians who live here and they need documents from the embassy, they blackmailed them. And also the students, they brought the students here and said if you don’t come and protest in front of the embassy against the anti-regime protesters, we will cut off your scholarship,” said Aljundi.

Razan Saffour was born and raised in Britain but she has been a regular at the anti-Assad protests.

“I know several people who, when they started coming out to protests, they would get phone calls from the embassy and they’d tell them, ‘If you don’t stop coming, or if you keep coming to the pro-freedom protests, we will put your name down under the Muslim Brotherhood.’ The Muslim Brotherhood are deemed as terrorists inside Syria. ‘We’ll call you a convicted terrorist, we won’t let you go back to your own country,’” said Saffour.

The allegations of harassment extend beyond Britain. Human rights group Amnesty International says it has documented campaigns of intimidation in at least eight countries, including the U.S.

Calls for protection

Neil Sammonds, a Syria expert with Amnesty, said, “Then we find even worse on the other side back in Syria. A fairly large number of relatives have then been contacted by the intelligence agencies. At least eight have been detained. Four have been tortured. Two have actually disappeared, so they went in detention and now there’s no information about where they are.”

Amnesty is calling on governments to be more proactive in protecting Syrian expatriates.

The Syrian embassy in London declined an interview, but issued a statement denying the allegations. It added, “The embassy is working and will continue to work in accordance with international conventions, and in respect of British sovereignty… The embassy has clear instructions from Damascus to help Syrians regardless of their political positions.”

Outside the embassy, many of the protesters hold up signs bearing their full names and identities. They say they will not be frightened into giving up their demonstrations - but they admit many fellow Syrian expatriates are too scared to join in the protests.