Amnesty says Syria harassing dissidents abroad
Syrian embassy officials have been systematically harassing emigre dissidents in a bid to silence their protests against the government's crackdown, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
The London-based watchdog said it had documented cases involving more than 30 activists in eight countries -- Britain, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the United States.
It urged host countries to "take stronger action against Syrian embassies accused of orchestrating this kind of harassment and intimidation," and to protect the rights of Syrians abroad.
"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," said Amnesty's Syria researcher Neil Sammonds.
"In response the regime appears to have waged a systematic -- sometimes violent -- campaign to intimidate Syrians overseas into silence."
Amnesty said in many cases protesters outside Syrian embassies were initially filmed or photographed by officials then subjected to harassment of various kinds, including phone calls, emails and Facebook messages warning them to stop.
Some activists told the watchdog they were directly threatened by embassy officials.
Naima Darwish, who set up a Facebook page to call for protests outside the Syrian embassy in Santiago, Chile, was contacted directly by a senior official who asked to meet her in person.
"He told me that I should not to do such things," she told Amnesty. "He said I would lose the right to return to Syria if I continued."
A number of Syrians said their families back home were targeted by security forces, apparently to deter them from their activities overseas.
After Malek Jandali, a 38-year-old pianist and composer, performed at a pro-reform demonstration in front of the White House in July, his mother and father, aged 66 and 73 respectively, were attacked at their home in the central city of Homs and have since fled the country, Amnesty said.
"We look to host governments to act on credible allegations of abuses," said Sammonds, adding many dissidents were "too scared of what could happen to them to make formal complaints with the police."
"We would expect that any official found responsible for such acts should be prosecuted, or -- if diplomatic immunity prevents that -- asked to leave the country," he said.
© 2011 AFP