Beatings In Paris Show How Far Syrian Regime Will Go To Pursue Dissenters

Bashar Al-Assad’s crackdown on pro-democracy forces has killed thousands in cities like Rastan and Daraa. But the regime is also pursuing opponents abroad. In Paris, several activists have been beaten by shadowy characters presumed to be Syrian secret ser

Pro-democracy Syrian demonstrators in central Paris
Pro-democracy Syrian demonstrators in central Paris
Christophe Ayad

PARIS -- We are far from Rastan, where after five days of heavy-artillery bombing and dozens killed, the Syrian Army regained control last weekend. We are also far from Istanbul, where the Syrian opposition to President Bashar Al-Assad's regime set up a 190-strong National Council. So far, and yet so close.

The fate of the Syrian revolution, which began on March 15, is also playing out in Paris, the stage of a shadow theater in which some of the protagonists are members of the Mukhabarat, Syria's dreaded secret service. From threatening phone calls to brutal attacks, the Mukhabarat has quietly but systematically been making its presence known in the French capital.

In the square at Chatelet, in the heart of Paris, the same scene is repeated every weekend. Dozens of Syrian demonstrators and sympathizers gather around the fountain, where they unfurl banners, and display posters and pictures denouncing the dictatorship and repression in Syria. The atmosphere is at once friendly and fierce.

A better trained observer will notice the ballet of infiltrators circulating on foot or in cars, recording images of the crowd with their cell phones. On Aug. 26, one of the demonstrators, Azad Namo, was attending to the group's sound system when he suddenly heard an insult. "Hands grabbed my face from behind," he later recalled. "I fought back, a woman tried to bite me. When I fell to the ground, at least five people, two young men, two young women and an older woman were kicking and punching me."

Two plain-clothes officers posted to protect the publicly authorized demonstration were quickly overwhelmed by the scuffle. While Azad was being attacked, several demonstrators were confronted by a group screaming slogans glorifying the Syrian president.

Azad's story is one of several documented by Amnesty International, which released a report earlier this week on the Mukhabarat's shadowy operations in Paris. Shevan Amhani was also beat up during the Aug. 26 attack. At 31, he has been living in France since he was 11. He now works as an operations manager for a transportation company. Before the Syrian revolution began, Shevan had never been involved in activism. Over the past few months, however, he has taken part in numerous demonstrations – something that has apparently not gone unnoticed. Besides the beating, he has received numerous threatening e-mails. "We'll get you, wherever you are," the messages read.

Nine of the troublemakers were eventually arrested. A police officer told Azad that at least two owned diplomatic passports. Shevan, Azad and Georgette Alam, another victim, went to the second district precinct to file complaints. An officer asked them to identify their attackers. "I didn't want to," said Shevan. "But the policeman insisted. When I got into the police truck, the detained men insulted and threatened me in Arabic. They were filming me with their cell phones. Four of them were among the group that beat me up." A few hours later, everyone was released.

"A horror movie"

Shevan, Azad and Georgette left the police station in the company of Salem Hassan, a Kurdish militant, and Mohamad Taha, a high-profile organizer supporting the Syrian revolution. When the group reached Rue Lafayette, a red car pulled up alongside them. Four men armed with baseball bats got out of the vehicle. Mohamad recalled that one of the men yelled: "So motherf---rs, you guys are demonstrating?"

"More people arrived," said Mohamad. "I found myself on the ground, pinned down while a man hit my head against the sidewalk." At that point the activist saw a red car move toward him, ready to run him over. He though he was going to die. But with a sudden burst of strength, Mohamad freed himself, and quickly joined Georgette and the others in a nearby café where they sought refuge.

"It was a horror movie" said Mohamad. "I suddenly realized that this is what Syrians experience on a day-to-day basis. I'd never thought I would run into Chabiha (civilian and armed pro-regime militia) in Paris. I recognized at least two of the attackers from Chatelet. They'd followed us." Police managed to apprehend only two of the attackers.

Shevan, Mohamad and Salem were seriously hurt and covered in blood. They spent the night at a hospital before returning to the police precinct the following morning to file a complaint. There, to their utter surprise, they saw two of their attackers walk out free.

Since then, the wounded activists have been living in fear. They continue to speak out in favor of the revolution by demonstrating and sharing videos and news they receive from the home country – but always looking over their shoulders.

Georgette admits she checks her rearview mirror every time she parks her car. "I had no idea I was running any risks here," said the 43-year-old restaurant manager who has lived in Paris since 1985. Mohamad says he jumps whenever anyone gets too close. Azad worries about how all this could affect family members still living in Syria. He has good reason to be concerned. His brother heard about Azad's troubles in Paris through the visit of leather-clad men. "My brother called and said: ‘please, you're far away, don't cause us any trouble,"" said Azad.

At this point it's not at clear what – if anything – will be done with the men arrested for their alleged involvement in the two Aug. 26 attacks. The lawyer for the victims laments the fact that "the alleged attackers might not face justice under the pretext of diplomatic immunity." So far, however, French authorities are publicly denying that the involved Syrians, who are said to be related through marriage to the family of Maher Al-Assad – President Bashar Al-Assad's brotherhave diplomatic passports.

The August incidents are not without precedent in Paris. In 1982, a downtown demonstration against the Hama Massacre was savagely attacked by a dozen Syrian agents on an express visit from Damascus. Salim Al-Awabdeh, one of Saturday's demonstrators, remembers that incident well. He still has the scars on his hands.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Syria-Frames-Of-Freedom

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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