When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Activism Abroad Can Mean Terror For Family Members Back Home In Syria

Exiled for the past 11 years in Germany, Syrian-born Sondos Sulaiman is an open critic of the repressive Bashir al-Assad regime. But her activism comes at a price. Sulaiman receives regular threats, and fears constantly – with good reason – for the safet

Critics of Syrian President Bashir al-Assadm protesting in Berlin
Critics of Syrian President Bashir al-Assadm protesting in Berlin
Lydia Bentsche

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 she's 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 activist's life hell. Sometimes she gets up to 10 emails and Facebook notifications a day – and they're not from her family or friends. But the anonymous communications, which also include calls, aren't 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, she's heard nothing. Instead, she receives messages from people she doesn't 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 family's "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, Assad's 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? I'm not afraid," she told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "The pressure is tough, but I know that it's 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 party's 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 Sulaiman's life. She ended up quitting her teaching job to work full-time for the party. She runs its website, demonstrates, meets with representatives of Germany's 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.

"That's why it's 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.

Sulaiman's 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 Syria's 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 Assad's 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 Sulaiman's brother-in-law. To her relief, she heard that her relatives were okay. "But they are very afraid. It's gotten to the point that my sister is so scared she won't leave the house. The intelligence services have been spreading horrible lies about me. It's tough on my whole family."

Despite all this, Sulaiman isn't giving up hope. If she did, she wouldn't 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 -- that's 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 country's on the right track. We're 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 she'll get some good news from her family again soon.

Read the original story in German

Photo - Exezippdf

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


Should Christians Be Scared Of Horror Movies?

Horror films have a complicated and rich history with christian themes and influences, but how healthy is it for audiences watching?

Should Christians Be Scared Of Horror Movies?

"The Nun II" was released on Sept. 2023.

Joseph Holmes

“The Nun II” has little to show for itself except for its repetitive jump scares — but could it also be a danger to your soul?

Christians have a complicated relationship with the horror genre. On the one hand, horror movies are one of the few types of Hollywood films that unapologetically treat Christianity (particularly Catholicism) as good.

“The Exorcist” remains one of the most successful and acclaimed movies of all time. More recently, “The Conjuring” franchise — about a wholesome husband and wife duo who fight demons for the Catholic Church in the 1970s and related spinoffs about the monsters they’ve fought — has more reverent references to Jesus than almost any movie I can think of in recent memory (even more than many faith-based films).

The Catholic film critic Deacon Steven Greydanus once mentioned that one of the few places where you can find substantial positive Catholic representation was inhorror films.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest