Syrians abroad accuse envoys of intimidation

Assad foes say kin back home targeted

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LONDON — Syrians protesting against the Assad regime in London and elsewhere abroad say that Syrian Embassy officials have harassed them and that their families in Syria have been intimidated, beaten and even tortured.

Ghias Aljundi, who fled Syria 13 years ago, said he received phone calls from people claiming to be from the embassy after he got involved in the almost-weekly protests in Britain’s capital.

“They told me to stop my activities, otherwise they could reach me,” he said. “It was an uncomfortable feeling, and I felt worried about my family.”

Syrians in Britain say that Syrian Embassy officials have sent threatening messages to the protesters via social-networking websites, including Facebook, to try to force them to stop demonstrating. They accuse the officials of filming and photographing protesters outside the embassy and making threats against them and their families in Syria.

Mr. Aljundi was one of about 50 Syrians at a recent event organized by the human rights group Amnesty International to highlight the intimidation techniques in a report released last week, “Syria: The Long Reach of the Mukhabaraat.”

Mukhabaraat is the Arabic word for intelligence agency.

There are 30,000 to 40,000 Syrians in Britain, according to Syrian activists here. Last year, Syria’s government estimated that 15 million of its nationals live abroad.

Amnesty International’s report details cases of more than 30 Syrian activists who have been intimidated by embassy officials in eight countries in Europe and the Americas.

“We found the pattern was a lot worse than it might have been,” said researcher Neil Sammonds, who compiled the report. “It was not only people protesting outside embassies they were monitoring, but their family members back at home.”

In Britain, one man reported that intelligence agency officials had visited his mother in Syria, wrecked her home and forced her to leave the country, the report says.

A Syrian activist living in Germany said her brother was forced to denounce her actions on state television.

Syrian-Americans also say they and their families have been harassed by the Syrian Embassy in the United States.

Malek Jandali, a Syrian musician in Atlanta, said his parents had been targeted by the Assad regime after he performed at a pro-reform demonstration in front of the White House in July.

He said that after the protest, security agents in Syria had beaten his elderly parents and told his mother the beating was intended to teach her a lesson about how to raise her children.

Radwan Ziadeh, who left Syria in 2007 to live in the U.S., said his brother Yassin had been arrested by men thought to be agents of air force intelligence in Syria because of Radwan Ziadeh’s human rights activities. He said other members of his family were unable to travel overseas.

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