Syria forced people to attend pro-Assad rallies, report


Syrian workers and students were forced to attend rallies in support of President Bashar al-Assad this week, a human rights campaigner from the country told CNN Wednesday.

Government workers were ordered to attend the rallies, said Ammar Qurabi, chairman of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.

Qurabi provided CNN with a copy of what he said were leaked official government documents saying that government workers who refused to attend would have their pay docked and would be considered absent from work for the day.

CNN could not independently confirm the authenticity of the document. Syria has not responded to Qurabi’s allegations.

Qurabi, who is from Syria but is currently in Egypt, says his organization received complaints from dozens of college students across the country that were forced to attend the rallies or face losing academic credits for the year.

Executives of pro-Assad corporations such as Rami Makhlouf’s SyriaTel also required employees to attend the rallies by threatening to dock pay, Qurabi charged.

Syria’s official news agency SANA reported Tuesday that “millions of Syrian citizens gathered in the public squares in support of the comprehensive reform program under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad.”

State TV showed images Tuesday of thousands joining pro-regime rallies in Daraa, Aleppo and Homs. Some in the crowds chanted, “With our blood, with our souls, we will sacrifice for you, Bashar” and “God, Syria and Bashar only.”

In addition to the pro-Assad demonstrations, fighting raged in a major Syrian city Tuesday, with at least two people killed and several others wounded, an activist group said.

Clashes erupted between protesters and security forces in Homs, according to the Local Coordination Committee in Syria, a network of activists that promotes and documents demonstrations across the country.

They occurred in al-Khalidiya neighborhood, and video said to be from the Homs unrest shows protesters running and throwing rocks and contains sounds of heavy gunfire. CNN cannot independently confirm the information.

Demonstrations critical of the government began in the southern city of Daraa months ago and were swiftly suppressed by security forces. Anti-government fervor caught on nationwide as more protests were met with tougher crackdowns.

After three months of protests, more than 1,100 have died and thousands more have been jailed, according to human rights activists.

Qurabi, the activist with the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, said Tuesday that dozens of protesters were arrested the day before during peaceful anti-government demonstrations in the city of Aleppo.

The world’s attention has been focused on the plight of Syrians displaced from their homes by violence.

At least 10,718 Syrian refugees, many of whom fled a military advance in and around the city of Jisr al-Shugur, have crossed the border into Turkey.

The U.N. refugee agency Tuesday said it participated in a government-sponsored mission to Jisr al-Shugur the day before, a trip that included diplomats, reporters and U.N. agencies.

“There was no evidence of people working in the fields. Jisr al-Shugur itself was almost deserted, with most shops shuttered and closed,” the agency said, which “indicates significant displacement.”

The agency said many people are “severely traumatized” by the ordeal.

“Syrian refugees spoke to our team about their fears and trauma. Many had lost family members, who they said were either killed, missing or in hiding. Our team heard accounts of murders, targeted assassinations, assaults, civilians getting killed in crossfire, torture and humiliation by the military,” the agency said. “Most of these people had lost virtually all their belongings and property. In many cases their livestock were shot, fields were torched, and homes and businesses destroyed or confiscated.”

On Monday, al-Assad offered vague promises of reform and called for refugees to go back home.

Al-Assad said he was “working on getting the military back to their barracks as soon as possible” but also warned the government would “work on tracking down everyone who shed blood or plotted in shedding the blood of the Syrian people, and we will hold them accountable.”