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Middle east

Dissidents face persecution beyond Syrian borders

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2011-10-04

According to Amnesty International, dozens of exiled Syrians have been victims of threats or attacks after expressing their opposition to the Assad regime. France has now warned Syria about acts of intimidation on French soil.

Their names are Rabee, Shevan, Naima, Georgette and Salem. All are Syrian dissidents who chose to leave their native country in order to live freely. Seeking safety, they’ve arrived in Paris, London, Toronto, and New York over the past several months, settling in places where they can express their solidarity with the anti-Assad movement that’s been gripping Syria.

But they have not been left alone, as hoped. All have been victims of attacks organized by Syrian diplomats abroad, according to an Amnesty International report published Monday.

“For five months we had been demonstrating at the Place du Chatelet [a public square in Paris] without any problem,” 35-year-old Rabee testified in the Amnesty report. “But then during a peaceful protest there on August 26, at about 6:30 pm, a group of five or six men and four women, carrying pro-Bashar [al-Assad, President of Syria] flags, arrived and attacked us.

"Three of us were hurt, including a young woman, Georgette….[The police said] that two of the aggressors have diplomatic passports and therefore no action can be done towards those two.”

The French Foreign Ministry has denied the allegation about the two attackers with diplomatic passports, who are thought to be linked to President Assad’s family. France also on Tuesday warned Syria against committing any act of violence or intimidation against Syrian dissidents in France.

Four of the protesters who were attacked are now planning on filing complaints. “At midnight, when leaving the protest, we were attacked a second time”, 31-year-old Shevan Ahmani told France24.com

“There were 15 of them, armed with baseball bats. We succeeded in escaping and hiding in a bar until the police arrived. Some of us had head injuries, others nose injuries.” Shevan says he will stay indoors for a week.

Campaign of intimidation

The testimonies of Rabee and Shevan are evidence of the campaign of intimidation that Syrian authorities are waging beyond Syria’s borders. In total, Amnesty has gathered more than 30 such first-person accounts of Syrians exiled in eight different countries (Germany, Canada, Chile, Spain, US, France, Britain, and Sweden).

“Syrian refugees are attempting, through peaceful demonstrations, to denounce abuses that we consider crimes against humanity,” commented Neil Sammonds, a Syria specialist for Amnesty International.

According to the UN, 2,600 people have died in the country and ten thousand have been arrested since March 15, when the anti-regime movement began. Many protesters have reported physical and psychological torture while in prison.

All witnesses cited in the Amnesty report have been victims of attacks or intimidation by telephone, email, or social networking sites. One of those witnesses, Naima, in Santiago, Chili, started a Facebook page to call for protesters to gather in front of the Syrian embassy there.

A representative from the embassy contacted her. “He told me that I would lose the right to return to Syria if I continued doing such things,” Naima tells Amnesty in the report.

Some exiled Syrians have reported family members back home being threatened, too. “A few months ago, the moukhabarat [Syrian secret service] went to see the family of one of my friends”, recounted a Syrian living in the US. “They interrogated his family, showed them a photo of my friend protesting. And they told his family: ‘Tell your son not to leave himself open to bad influences.’”

Torture

Amnesty International has also said that family members of exiled dissidents have been subject to widespread arrests and acts of torture in Syria. “[They] beat [my mother] on the head, on her eye and her mouth….several of my mum’s teeth were broken, there was blood on her clothes, the bed, and the wall,” recounted Malek, a Syrian who protested in Washington on July 23 against the Assad regime, chanting “Oh my homeland, when will you be free?”.

According to Malek, the agents told his mother after beating her: “This is what happens when your son mocks the government.”

Imad, who lives in Spain, says that his brother Aladdin, who lives in Syria, was detained for four days in July. After being tortured, he was shown photos and asked to identify protesters at a gathering in front of the Syrian embassy in Madrid.

He was then forced to call his brother in Spain and ask him to never again participate in the demonstrations. The family has not heard from Aladdin since.

For Neil Sammonds of Amnesty International, “it’s further proof that the Syrian authorities will tolerate no form of legitimate dissidence, and that they’re ready to go to extremes to silence those who publicly defy them”.
 

Date created : 2011-10-04

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