BERLIN -- Every day, she gets anonymous hate mail. Even in exile in Germany, Sondos Sulaiman faces intense pressure from supporters of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. Despite the threats, Sulaiman, 33, continues to fight for democracy in her country from Berlin, where shes now based. She does, however, suffer permanent anxiety about her parents and seven siblings, 3,000 kilometers away.
The regime in Damascus is making this activists life hell. Sometimes she gets up to 10 emails and Facebook notifications a day and theyre not from her family or friends. But the anonymous communications, which also include calls, arent deterring her. Even though she fears for safety of her loved ones, she continues to work for the Al Hadatha party, which is fighting for freedom and democracy in Syria.
Sulaiman has been waiting for some sign of life from her family for months. So far, shes heard nothing. Instead, she receives messages from people she doesnt know and who she believes to be supporters of the autocratically repressive regime of President Assad, which forbids criticism. Others living in exile like Sulaiman have also received messages telling them to stop opposing the regime or else their or their familys health is going to suffer.
A recent Amnesty International report records the experiences of 30 exiled Syrians living in eight different countries. They say that they are watched and pressured by Syrian diplomats, apparently because they demonstrate for freedom and denounce the fact that for months, Assads security forces have been firing on peaceful demonstrators in Syria who are perceived as a threat to the regime.
Some exiled Syrians collapse under the pressure. Sulaiman says she wants to stay strong. "Afraid? Im not afraid," she told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "The pressure is tough, but I know that its much safer in Germany than it is in Syria."
More than a decade in exile
Sulaiman left home 11 years ago. She was already anti-regime back then, in a low-key way but it was enough to alarm Syrian authorities who bullied her until she applied for exile in Germany, where she ended up in Berlin.
A graduate in Arab studies, she at first earned a living teaching Arabic. In her spare time, she worked for the Al Hadatha party, which stands for a modern and democratic Syria. The partys roots go back to the Syrian underground in 2001, and it now operates out of Germany.
The longer Bashir al-Assad ruled, the greater the role politics played in Sulaimans life. She ended up quitting her teaching job to work full-time for the party. She runs its website, demonstrates, meets with representatives of Germanys foreign office, writes letters to the European Parliament she has even participated in hunger strikes.
In June, she posted a video on YouTube in which she urged the minority Alawites in Syria particularly to fight for their freedom. Al-Assad is an Alawite. Not only does the president justify his repressive tactics as necessary to protect his Alawite brothers, but he also insists if he, as an Alawite, were to lose power, ethnically and religiously diverse Syria might tear itself apart.
"Thats why its important [for Alawites] to state publically: I am an Alawite and I oppose the regime," says Sulaiman. The exiled activist says that after she posted the video, many Alawites contacted her to express support. That gave her courage. However, the regime reacted too with intimidation.
Sulaimans brother had to go on state television where "he was forced to say bad things about me, says his sister. "He was forced to lie. He said he had no knowledge of my activities until now, and that I was being paid by the German government and other European countries.
Sulaiman says that she and her brother used to talk often on the phone about her dreams for Syrias future. Then contact was interrupted. Syrian intelligence knows everything, they were tapping his phone, she says. Her whole family was monitored and warned against having any contact with her. "The pressure just kept getting more intense, she says, and her family finally asked her to stop getting in touch not by phone but also not by e-mail, because Assads henchmen have their eye on all avenues of communication.
Troubling reports from home
The Amnesty International report backs up such claims. It cites the cases of exiled Syrians whose relatives back home have been intimidated, jailed, or even tortured even when they themselves were not involved in any form of protest. Some were forced to make statements on state television discrediting family members or friends.
After months of having no contact at all with her relatives, Sulaiman asked an acquaintance in Syria to visit the family. In vain, because, she says: Every few kilometers between the villages there are groups of police, so nobody can drive anywhere without being questioned.
However, after a while the acquaintance did manage to talk to Sulaimans brother-in-law. To her relief, she heard that her relatives were okay. But they are very afraid. Its gotten to the point that my sister is so scared she wont leave the house. The intelligence services have been spreading horrible lies about me. Its tough on my whole family.
Despite all this, Sulaiman isnt giving up hope. If she did, she wouldnt be able to carry on her fight for a free Syria. "A good life in a democratic country with the rule of law, where women and human rights are accepted and respected -- thats my dream," she says.
She knows there are going to be more than a few problems down the road. But at least the protests have started the ball rolling. Sulaiman says she was surprised at how many people in Syria are now anti-Assad. "I thought most people needed more time. The countrys on the right track. Were nearer our goals than we were."
While waiting to reach those goals, Sulaiman just has to live with the threatening messages she receives, and keep hoping shell get some good news from her family again soon.
Read the original story in German
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