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.”