An innocent civilian gun down on the streets by Assad’s secret police.
19 April 2011
Syria’s President must back up his pledge to introduce reforms with immediate, concrete action to end the continuing wave of killings of protesters by his security forces, Amnesty International said today.
“We welcome reports that the government has agreed to lift the national state of emergency that has been in force continuously for the past 48 years, and abolish the notoriously unfair Supreme State Security Court that it spawned,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“These have been two key demands of the thousands of largely peaceful protesters that have braved the authorities’ bullets on Syria’s streets.”
According to reports, at least 26 more protesters have died in recent days, bringing the total to some 220 over the past month. On Sunday, security forces reportedly killed 17 protesters in Homs and three mourners at a funeral in nearby Talbisah, with five more protesters reported killed in Latakia on Monday.
A tribal leader, Muhammad al-‘Aliwi, also died in custody on Monday, possibly as a result of torture.
“The concessions now being made by the government have been achieved at a very heavy cost in human lives,” said Malcolm Smart. “There must be no more slaughter. Syria’s President must take firm action now to stop the bloody crackdown by his security forces and ensure that those responsible for it are held to account.”
“President Bashar al-Assad should match his action in lifting the emergency by establishing an immediate independent investigation into the unlawful killings and other violations committed by his forces, and by providing reparation to the victims.”
“Frankly, this looks like a self-serving claim intended to explain away or even justify the killing of peaceful protesters and mourners attending funerals of people previously killed,” said Malcolm Smart.
Amnesty International has seen no credible evidence to support the Ministry’s claim and the nationwide pro-reform protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad doesn’t think Syrian can handle democracy, he suggest a baby steps!! “If you want to start, you have to start with 1, 2, 3, 4 “
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who inherited a regime that has held power for four decades, said he will push for more political reforms in his country, in a sign of how Egypt‘s violent revolt is forcing leaders across the region to rethink their approaches.
In a rare interview, Mr. Assad told The Wall Street Journal that the protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen are ushering in a “new era” in the Middle East, and that Arab rulers would need to do more to accommodate their people’s rising political and economic aspirations.
WSJ: We had a lot to ask you before, last week. And now we have even more to ask you about.
President Assad: This is the Middle East, where every week you have something new; so whatever you talk about this week will not be valuable next week. Syria is geographically and politically in the middle of the Middle East. That is why we are in contact with most of the problems forever, let us say, whether directly or indirectly.
WSJ: Thank you again for seeing us. We appreciate it. Maybe we can start just with the regional situation which is all over the news. As the president of Syria, how do you see what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, and Jordan? How do you see the region changing and eventually, what does that mean for Syria itself?
President Assad: It means if you have stagnant water, you will have pollution and microbes; and because you have had this stagnation for decades, let us say, especially the last decade in spite of the vast changes that are surrounding the world and some areas in the Middle East, including Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan, because we had this stagnation we were plagued with microbes. So, what you have been seeing in this region is a kind of disease. That is how we see it.
If you want to talk about Tunisia and Egypt, we are outside of this; at the end we are not Tunisians and we are not Egyptians. We cannot be objective especially that the situation is still foggy, and not clear. It has not been settled yet. So, whatever you hear or read in this period cannot be very realistic or precise or objective. But I can talk about the region in general more than talking about Tunisia or Egypt because we are one region. We are not a copy of each other, but we have many things in common. So, I think it is about desperation. Whenever you have an uprising, it is self-evident that to say that you have anger, but this anger feeds on desperation. Desperation has two factors: internal and external. The internal is that we are to blame, as states and as officials, and the external is that you are to blame, as great powers or what you call in the West ‘the international community’, while for them, the international community is made up of the United States and some few countries, but not the whole world. So, let us refer to the latter as the ‘greatest powers’ that have been involved in this region for decades.
As for the internal, it is about doing something that is changing; to change the society, and we have to keep up with this change, as a state and as institutions. You have to upgrade yourself with the upgrading of the society. There must be something to have this balance. This is the most important headline. Regarding the west, it is about the problems that we have in our region, i.e. the lack of peace, the invasion of Iraq, what is happening in Afghanistan and now its repercussions in Pakistan and other regions. That led to this desperation and anger. What I tell you now is only the headlines, and as for the details, maybe you have details to talk about for days if you want to continue. I am just giving you the way we look at the situation in general.
WSJ: What sort of changes? How would you define the changes that are happening?
President Assad: Let us talk about what has not changed till today. Until today we have only two new things but if you want to talk about something new in our life, you have new hopes and new wars. You have a lot of people coming to the labor market without jobs and you have new wars that are creating desperation. So, one is internal and the other is external. Of course, if you want to talk about the changes internally, there must be a different kind of changes: political, economic and administrative. These are the changes that we need. But at the same time you have to upgrade the society and this does not mean to upgrade it technically by upgrading qualifications. It means to open up the minds. Actually, societies during the last three decades, especially since the eighties have become more closed due to an increase in close-mindedness that led to extremism. This current will lead to repercussions of less creativity, less development, and less openness. You cannot reform your society or institution without opening your mind. So the core issue is how to open the mind, the whole society, and this means everybody in society including everyone. I am not talking about the state or average or common people. I am talking about everybody; because when you close your mind as an official you cannot upgrade and vice versa.
This is from the inside. From the outside, what is the role of the West? It’s now been twenty years since we started the peace process in 1991. What have we achieved? The simple way to answer this question is to say is it better or worse? We can for example say that it is five percent better than before we started the peace process. I can tell you frankly that it is much worse. That is why you have more desperation. This is the end result. If you talk about the approach, I always talk about taking the issue into a vicious cycle of desperation especially when you talk about peace. I am talking now about peace. You have other factors: you have negotiations, and then exaggerated hopes followed by failure; and then comes another hope and another failure. So, with time the diagram will be going down, and that is what has been happening: a little bit up and more down. This is one example about peace.
Internally, it is about the administration and the people’s feeling and dignity, about the people participating in the decisions of their country. It is about another important issue. I am not talking here on behalf of the Tunisians or the Egyptians. I am talking on behalf of the Syrians. It is something we always adopt. We have more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries but in spite of that Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence between your policy and the people’s beliefs and interests, you will have this vacuum that creates disturbance. So people do not only live on interests; they also live on beliefs, especially in very ideological areas. Unless you understand the ideological aspect of the region, you cannot understand what is happening.
WSJ: If Syria is more aligned with its people in terms of its foreign policy, why is political reform such a challenge internally? This is something that you have been working on but people feel that there is not a lot of progress that has been made.
“President Assad: We started the reform since I became a president. But the way we look at the reform is different from the way you look at it. For us, you cannot put the horses before the carriage. If you want to start, you have to start with 1, 2, 3, 4… you cannot start with 6 and then go back to one. For me, number (1) is what I have just mentioned: how to upgrade the whole society. For me as a government and institutions, the only thing to do is issuing some decrees and laws, let us say. Actually, this is not reform. Reform could start with some decrees but real reform is about how to open up the society, and how to start dialogue.
The problem with the West is that they start with political reform going towards democracy. If you want to go towards democracy, the first thing is to involve the people in decision making, not to make it. It is not my democracy as a person; it is our democracy as a society. So how do you start? You start with creating dialogue. How do you create dialogue? We did not have private media in the past; we did not have internet or private universities, we did not have banks. Everything was controlled by the state. You cannot create the democracy that you are asking about in this way. You have different ways of creating democracy.”
WSJ: Because the feeling is that when you do that before you open up the minds of the people, then the outcome is extremism?
President Assad: No, not because of that but because the dialogue is practice and you need to train yourself on how to make dialogue. When you do not talk, and suddenly you talk, you happen not to talk in the proper way or productive way. We are learning, but we are learning from ourselves. You do not learn from anyone in this world. When you have reform it should be national reform. You can learn, if you want, from other experiences or from some of the aspects in those experiences, but you cannot embrace the whole experience. The first thing you have to learn is how to conduct dialogue and how to make it productive. So, we started having dialogue in Syria through the media which was six or seven years ago. Today is better than six years ago, but it is not the optimal situation. We still have a long way to go because it is a process. If I was brought up in different circumstances, I have to train myself and, to be realistic, we have to wait for the next generation to bring this reform. This is first. Second, in Syria, we have a very important principle which I adopt: if you want to be transparent with your people, do not do anything cosmetic, whether to deceive your people or to get some applaud from the West. They want to criticize you, let them criticize and do not worry. Just be transparent with your people and tell them this is the reality. What you do today could be bad now but very good next year. So, the time is important for the reform depending on how much you can move forward.
Back to the stagnation factor, we need flowing water but how fast is the flow. If it is very fast, it can be destructive or you can have flood. Therefore, it should be flowing smoothly.
— Syria‘s Cabinet approved a “draft decree” to abolish the country’s notorious state of emergency law as another day of clashes erupted in the simmering country’s heartland, the country’s media reported Tuesday.
The move is among several made by Syria’s recently appointed Council of Ministers. The moves were announced after three or four protesters were killed and many others were wounded in Homs when security forces assaulted activists, a human rights activist and a witness told CNN on Tuesday.
The Cabinet also approved a decree to require citizens to obtain permits for demonstrations, which have always been permitted in Syria. It also approved
“a draft decree to cancel the Supreme State Security Court,”
a special court that prosecutes people regarded as challenging the government.
The developments come as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad tries to cope with widespread discontent, illustrated by bloody confrontations that have snowballed across the country since mid-March.
The opposition in Syria has made many demands, including the repeal of the emergency law, which allows the government to make preventive arrests and override constitutional and penal code statutes. The law also bars detainees who haven’t been charged from filing court complaints or from having a lawyer present during interrogations.
Activists have said that the regime’s security forces have ruthlessly broken up peaceful protests despite talk of reform.
One analyst, Andrew J. Tabler, a Next Generation fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agrees with protesters that Al-Assad has promised reform before and hasn’t followed through.
Tabler said he is skeptical about the Cabinet moves, since al-Assad could have made the decrees himself, and said he believes Syria could change the emergency decree to an anti-terrorism law that will be the legal basis for continued repression. He also said there are other laws on the books that would allow the regime to persist in its practices.
“It’s getting more bloody. I think it will continue to do so,” Tabler said. “It’s definitely not headed in a good direction.”
Tabler pointed out that the present government rhetoric is reminiscent of the early 1980s, which the minority Alawite government violently suppressed a Sunni Muslim uprising in the city of Hama. He referred to an Interior Ministry statement blaming “Salafi armed groups” for killing security forces and civilians and terrorizing citizens.
Homs — a metropolis more than 100 miles north of Damascus — was the site of overnight protests.
About 2,000 people demonstrated in the Homs main square, but security forces repeatedly asked them to disperse and said they would be forcibly removed if they remained, said activist Razan Zeitouneh, who was in another location in Syria but spoke to protesters from the scene.
The activist said that around 2 a.m. Tuesday, security forces fired using lethal rounds in fighting that lasted around two hours, killing at least three people and wounding dozens more.
A 37-year-old man in Homs took part in the sit-in. He said the secret service and security forces — but not the army — shot live ammunition and tear gas at protesters, with at least four killed and many injured.
“We have taken to clinics because we do not want them to be arrested by the security forces. We are treating their wounds secretly.”
He said religious sheikhs from Homs negotiated with members of a presidential delegation and persuaded them to permit a sit-in.
“They broke their promises. While we were chanting at 2 a.m., ‘Down with the regime,’ the security forces started shooting at us,” he said.
It is impossible to independently authenticate the claims. The Syrian Arab News Agency cited an official source who said that on Tuesday, “armed criminal groups” in Homs shot and killed two security officials, Sgt. Maj. Ghassan Mehrez and Col. Mohammad Abdo Khaddour.
“The treacherous and criminal armed groups controlled by sides abroad insisted upon carrying out their criminal plots,” SANA said.
This comes as the Syrian Interior Ministry urged Syrian citizens to refrain from mass rallies, protests and strikes “for any reason to help in establishing stability and safety.”
Scores of people have died, and al-Assad’s government has been criticized for using lethal force.
Human Rights Watch, a prominent humanitarian watchdog group, issued a report Friday detailing “torture and ill-treatment” of protesters over the past month, and United Nations human rights experts released a statement deploring the crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.
In a speech to his new government, published in English on SANA’s website, al-Assad promised change.
“The world is moving fast around us, and we need to move at the same pace so that we can say that we are developing,” he said.
He also said an investigation committee is looking into the recent deaths of protesters and sent his condolences to the families of those killed during the unrest.
“We consider them all martyrs, whether they were civilians, members of the police or the armed forces,” al-Assad said.
Mohamad Bazzi, adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, said al-Assad is facing the Baathist regime’s “most serious challenge” in decades and that he hasn’t been able to find a way to quell the protests.
“It’s especially troublesome for Assad that the unrest started in Sunni areas that traditionally supported the Baath Party and have provided recruits for the Syrian military,” he said.
The arrests of 15 teenagers for writing anti-government graffiti in Daraa last month — an incident pointed to by many as the catalyst of the unrest — “set off large demonstrations, which led to clashes with security forces and dozens of casualties,” Bazzi said.
“Assad and his advisers bungled the initial response: The president failed to offer condolences to the families of those killed or to visit the town, setting off a new round of protests that spread to other areas. As the crackdown intensified, demonstrators also honed their rhetoric from demands for ‘freedom’ and ‘dignity’ — and an end to abuses by the security forces — to calls for Assad’s overthrow.
“He is squandering this political capital as his crackdown intensifies and he continues to ignore the need for fundamental change,” Bazzi said.
As for the public outpourings, Zeitouneh said funerals have begun for those killed in Homs and others killed in Latakia. She said people in Baniyas are chanting they aren’t Salafis.
Zeitouneh also is asking whether those convicted under the emergency law be released and whether new laws would simply create the framework for the government to initiate an even greater crackdown.
She said that demonstrations would continue — the people’s demands are for a free and democratic country.
The 37-year-old witness in Homs echoed the activist: “We will continue our protests, we will bring down the regime and the allegations by the regime that we are Muslim Brotherhood and extremists are all lies … We are not armed, we are the people of Syria, and we will continue our protests.”
CNN’s Arwa Damon is reporting from Beirut, Lebanon and Joe Sterling and Rima Maktabi from Atlanta
An elderly women’s house gets showered with bullets. She tours the house with the media crew from F.N.N, and shows them the damage that was caused by the Assad Secret Police, and Assad Thugs. She tells the media about her encounter with the Assad Thugs, and Secret Police.
BEIRUT — Syria’s government approved lifting the country’s nearly 50-year-old state of emergency Tuesday to meet a key demand of anti-government protesters, but opposition leaders dismissed it as an attempt by President Bashar Assad to claim reforms but maintain his hard-line rule.
The blunt response suggested the month-old uprising could be entering a more volatile stage: protesters now aiming higher to seek Assad’s ouster and his regime warning that the demonstrations must now end.
“This is a maneuver to gain time,” said prominent Syrian writer Yassin Haj Saleh, who spent 16 years in jail for being a member of a pro-democracy group.
“They are basically telling the people, we have fulfilled your demands, so go home and if you don’t will break your head,” he told The Associated Press by telephone from Beirut. “But in reality nothing will change.”
The announcement signaling the end of the much-reviled emergency rule came just hours after a show of strength by authorities. Security forced stormed an occupied square in Syria’s third-largest city. Then officials issued a stern warning on national TV for the protesters to back down.
The ultimatum-style message appeared to show that ending emergency laws will not ease the increasingly harsh blows against opponents. Assad’s regime has labeled the protest movement as an “armed insurrection” that could give them the cover to continue the crackdown.
Assad last week had told his cabinet to remove the state of emergency – in place since his Baath Party took power in March 1963 – and implement other reforms, but added that such a move would give protesters no more reason to take to the streets. This could give Assad further pretext to move against any further marches or rallies.
Syria’s official news agency SANA said the cabinet also approved abolishing the state security court, which handled the trials of political prisoners, and approved a new law allowing the right to peaceful protests. The changes need parliament approval, but no objections are expected at its next session planned for May 2.
“Repealing the emergency law would do little to restrict the power of various security agencies because Syria has other laws that guarantee members of the secret police immunity for virtually any crime committed in the line of duty,” said Mohamad Bazzi, a regional expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Most of Syria’s 23 million people were born or grew up under the strict control of the state of emergency that, among other things, puts strict control on the media, allows eavesdropping on telecommunications and permits arrests without warrants from judicial authorities.
The regime had claimed the reason for the emergency rule is because of the technical state of war with archenemy Israel, but rights groups and others say it was mostly used as the backbone of the authoritarian system.
Tuesday’s overtures came shortly after the Interior Ministry issued an ominous warning to the nation to stop taking part in any protests or sit-ins. In a statement broadcast on Syrian Television, the ministry said all laws will be implemented to safeguard the people’s security and the country’s stability.
Hours earlier, security forces fired on anti-government protesters staging a sit-in in a square in the central city of Homs, chasing them through the streets for hours.
Witnesses said at least one person was killed and many others wounded.
“They shot at everything, there was smoke everywhere,” an activist in Homs told The Associated Press by telephone, asking that his name not be used because he feared for his personal safety. “I saw people on the ground, some shot in their feet, some in the stomach.”
The streets were largely deserted by early afternoon, with people staying inside their homes.
Hundreds of people had gathered Monday at Clock Square in the center of Homs, bringing mattresses, food and water to the site for an Egypt-style standoff. They vowed to stay until President Bashar Assad is ousted – a brazen escalation of the monthlong uprising against the country’s authoritarian regime.
At least 200 people have been killed over the past month as security forces launched a deadly crackdown on the protest movement, human rights groups say. The government has coupled dry promises of reform with brutal tactics to quell the unrest, using the widely despised security forces and unleashing pro-regime thugs known as shabiha.
On Monday, the government blamed the weeks of unrest on ultraconservative Muslims seeking to establish a fundamentalist state – the latest effort to portray the reform movement as populated by extremists.
Assad has been playing on fears of sectarian warfare as he works to crush any popular support for the uprising.
Associated Press writer Elizabeth A. Kennedy contributed to this report from Cairo.
NICOSIA, Apr 19, 2011 (AFP) – At least four people died when Syria’s security forces opened fire early Tuesday on anti-regime protesters staging a sit-in in their thousands in the central city of Homs, a rights activist said.