The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has been using its staff and intelligence operatives through its embassies abroad to compile reports on the Syrian diaspora, a new report has revealed.
According to the Syrian Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC), citing 14,108 pages out of 483,000 classified documents it collected between 2013 and 2015 from abandoned Syrian state facilities, the Syrian regime has required embassy staff and intelligence in countries ranging from Egypt to Japan to compile reports on citizens living abroad.
The information gathered on them includes details about families back home, activists’ participation in political meetings, and even the attendance at mosques. It confirms suspicions long held by Syrians abroad that their government was continuing to spy on them and their families through embassies in their host countries.
The documents analysed reportedly show communication between embassies and intelligence departments requesting information on individuals believed to be linked to political activism, along with their families.
One document, for example, reveals a letter from the Syrian chief of the Political Security Directorate to heads of local intelligence branches, asking for information on “inciters” who are living in France, Belgium, Turkiye, Russia, and Lebanon.
“We have received a list from the National Security Bureau that includes the names of the instigators from outside the country including the following…,” it read. “Kindly provide us with the information you have on any of the names above so that we can take the necessary steps against them.”
The report by SJAC stated that the revelation should serve as a warning to foreign governments and Syrian refugees’ host countries against restoring ties with the Assad regime and reopening Syrian embassies on their soil, as it would likely lead to the intimidation of activists abroad and threaten the safety of themselves and their families.
“Foreign surveillance is a pillar of the Syrian state’s foreign policy and is facilitated by a coordinated network of embassy staff, intelligence sources, and security agencies,” the report stated. “With many regional and international governments clamouring for the return of Syrian refugees, documentation presented in this report offers clear evidence of the threats they face upon return – the Syrian government has amassed substantial information on opposition activism abroad and has a track record of using such information to repress dissent ruthlessly.”