The world awaits Syria’s response to the Arab League’s demands to pull the tanks off the streets and begin dialogue with the opposition. Earlier, President Assad said he would only talk to parties that had no links with “foreign powers or terrorism.”
With the protests, government crackdowns and violence raging in parts of Syria, the capital, Damascus, is still largely sheltered from them. But beneath the calm, many will remind you that in Syria walls most certainly have ears.
The “Mukhabarat”, the country’s intelligence service, has political clout in Syria. That is hardly a state secret. And since the unrest began in March, protestors have accused them of violent interrogations.
“We took to the street and started screaming ‘Allahu Akbar’ calling for the toppling of the regime. I was then chased and arrested by security forces,” one of the protesters told RT. “In a very tiny cell they beat me severely, damaging my back and knee. I was tortured with electric sticks. They accused us of receiving money for taking to the streets and being agents for America and Israel. After 48 hours of detention and torture, they took all my money and belongings, and threw me in the street.”
Serene Nkhuri is a lawyer specializing on detention cases. She says the influence of the security police extends even into the courtroom.
“We have three authorities in the country: the legal authority, the legislative, and the executive, but it is the security police who make the real decisions,” she explains. “The court judge waits for their decision and I feel sorry for the judge because he is not independent.”
Nkhuri believes this constant state of fear is thanks to decades of living under the Emergency Law – in place since 1963. In 2011, Assad repealed it in an effort to appease anti-regime protestors.
Shukri, who has worked for the Mukhabarat for 27 years, sustained gunshot wounds in what he says was an ambush by a group of terrorists. RT asked him about people’s fear of the Mukhabarat and accusations that they are behind the violence, detentions and torture.
“This is the wrong idea,” he insists. “We are protecting our people, but the terrorists shoot civilians and shoot us and then accuse security forces of doing such things. Accusations that we instill fear are also wrong. If this person has political activity without any intention of harming the country of conspiring against it, then he is free to do this and no one will chase him. But if he has links with terrorists and works against the country, naturally, he would be brought to justice.”
We posed the same questions to Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad.
“It depends on the people you talk to,” was his response. “Those who fear are people who take part in illegal activities, or carry arms, or put themselves in suspicious ways.”
When 20 per cent of the population is rumored to be in the intelligence service, it is no wonder, many prefer to keep their voices down in the light of day. But within a crowd, that fear is temporarily forgotten.
“Yes, I shall take to the street again and again. I shall raise my voice and fear nothing and no one,” the same protestor went on to explain. “We want freedom of expression but we get nothing. Only [President] Bashar al-Assad and his security men enjoy that. As for us, we are nothing. Why is that?”
Meanwhile, Assad’s security forces are said to have killed some 3,000 people over the last eight months, with the death toll still mounting.