September 19, 2006 Special Dispatch No. 1292

Syrian Oppositionist Tells of Harassment and Threats by Syrian Security Forces

September 19, 2006
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 1292

In a statement published on the reformist website, former Syrian MP Riad Seif, who had been arrested during "Damascus Spring" and today is an activist in the Syrian opposition, revealed that since his release from prison in January 2006 he has been constantly harassed and threatened by the Syrian regime's security services. [1] Seif says in his statement that the Syrian security services ordered him to desist from political activity and told him not to give interviews to the media, and threatened that if he did not obey these orders, the Syrian regime would be forced to arrest or kill him. [2]

The following are excerpts from the statement: [3]

The Regime Warned Seif That If He Continued to Oppose the Regime, "He Would Live Out the Rest of His Life in Abject Humiliation"

"At the beginning of September 2001, the Syrian regime decided to put an end to the activities of the 'Damascus Spring' movement and arrested MP Riad Seif, together with nine of his fellow oppositionists, and sentenced them to prison. Riad Seif was sentenced to five years' imprisonment on the charge of having tried to change the constitution through illegitimate means.

"Following Seif's release from prison, on January 18, 2006 he met with well-wishers, and exchanged ideas with them concerning his political program, which sees the current regime as being incapable of reform and considers it necessary to change the regime through a transition to a democratic regime by means of a peaceful popular struggle.

"On February 14, 2006, the [Syrian] regime launched a concerted campaign which continues up to this day, and in which more than one branch of the security services has taken part. Seif was called in by the chief of the General Directorate of [Syrian] Intelligence, who warned him of the consequences of criticizing the [Syrian] president. [Another time,] he also warned him not to meet with a delegation from the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which was in Damascus at the time.

"The next night Seif was led, handcuffed and blindfolded, to one of the military security offices, where he was subjected to humiliation and beatings, in an attempt to wrest from him a pledge to refrain from giving interviews to the press and from meeting with diplomats and [other] foreign nationals. When he persisted in his refusal, they presented him with two options: Either he would desist from all political activity and return to work in trade and industry, in which case he would receive the full support of the authorities, or else he would continue in his opposition to the regime, in which case he would live out the rest of his life in abject humiliation."

The Regime Threatened to Kill Seif

"On Saturday, February 18 [2006,] Seif was summoned by the head of the Department of Domestic Security, who informed him that the high authorities [in Syria] were angry at his having given an interview to the press, which was published in the supplement of the [Lebanese] Al-Nahar newspaper on February 5, 2006 and in which Seif, [according to the authorities,] overstepped the boundaries on 13 points, which was enough to send him back to prison unless he published a retraction in the same newspaper. After a three-day dispute with the assistant head of the Department [of Domestic Security], Seif was forced to publish a new interview in which he tempered his criticism of the [Syrian] regime.

"The head of the Department [of Domestic Security]'s demands did not end there. He informed [Seif] that he was to refrain from making any statement to the press or meeting with them until the publication of the political parties law in another two months. [4] [He added] that any behavior contradictory to this [condition] would lead the regime to defend itself through the implementation of the emergency laws, whether through imprisonment or putting [Seif] to death, regardless of any international and global protests that might accompany such measures. Seif had to accede to this request against his will, so as not to return to prison."

"The Incidents of Harassment Followed One After Another"

"On March 12, [2006,] while participating in a sit-in organized by Kurdish parties and organizations in Syria in commemoration of the anniversary of the events of Qamishli in 2004, Seif was forcibly removed from among the strikers and was imprisoned for the day. The head of Domestic Security himself told him that, from then on, he had turned from an opponent of the regime into an enemy of the regime. [5]

"The incidents of harassment followed one after another, and in various forms, in order to frighten him and to isolate him from society. His office manager and secretary were interrogated, and security patrols parked outside his office, his house, and his children's houses. Throughout April, a security patrol tailed him wherever he went, as though they were his shadow, 24 hours a day. In addition, dozens of his visitors, relations, and friends were interrogated, and some of them said that a group [of security personnel] consisting of three people, among them a lawyer and a woman, had been entrusted with the task of finding someone who would agree to lodge a complaint against Seif in order to damage his commercial reputation or his moral reputation.

"Starting from July 13, 2006, the head of Domestic Security ordered Seif to appear on a daily basis at the [Domestic Security] building, and he is still required to do so to this day. On July 15, 2006, immediately after he left the [Domestic Security] office, he was severely beaten by two people of unknown identity, whom he later recognized in the [Domestic Security] building when they appeared before him, again and again, in a provocative manner, during his mandatory daily visit.

"Damascus, September 4, 2006."

[1] "Damascus Spring" is the name given to the political awakening that swept Syria with Bashar Al-Assad's assumption of power in June 2000. Over the course of approximately one year, numerous associations for promoting democracy and civil society were established throughout Syria, among them the Jamal Al-Atassi Association, which in January 2001 proclaimed itself a non-governmental association for democratic dialogue. Already in September 2000, a published statement signed by 99 Syrian intellectuals had called for an end to Syria's emergency laws, the release of political prisoners, and the promotion of political and civil reform. In July 2001, the Human Rights Association in Syria was founded, and attorney Haythem Maleh was elected as its head. Hopes for reform began to wither when, in August 2001, the Syrian authorities conducted a wave of arrests of reformists, who were then sentenced to prison terms of several years.

[2] Riad Seif was a prominent figure in "Damascus Spring". He used to host, in his home, meetings of the National Dialogue Association, of which he was head. In 2001, he was arrested together with other "Damascus Spring" activists. He was accused of trying to change the constitution through illegitimate means, and was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released in January 2006, after having served slightly more than four years in prison.

[3], September 5, 2006.

[4] Over the course of January and February 2006, numerous reports appeared in the media concerning various proposed bills leading up to the publication of Syria's "political parties law." According to the reports, the law was supposed to be published in April, but to date no such law has been enacted.

[5] In March 2004, severe disturbances broke out between Kurds and the Syrian security forces in the city of Qamishli in northern Syria, following arguments and verbal insults between fans of rival soccer teams, one of which was Kurdish. When the two groups of fans began fighting, security forces arrived and intervened in an attempt to quell the rioting. In what followed, dozens of Kurds were killed in firing by the security forces, and as a result, in the next few days the rioting spread to additional Kurdish areas of northern Syria, which led to dozens of additional killings.

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