British envoy says Syria tries to hide truth


Britain’s ambassador to Damascus said Syrian authorities will stop at nothing to hold on to power and are trying to hide from the world the killing, arrest and abuse of mostly peaceful protesters against President Bashar al-Assad.

In a blunt first contribution to his new blog on Syria, Simon Collis also dismissed the chances that Assad’s promised reforms would lead to greater freedoms and praised the bravery of activists who film and distribute footage of the protests.

“This is a regime that remains determined to control every significant aspect of political life in Syria. It is used to power, and it will do anything to keep it,” Collis wrote.

He said he was launching the blog (here) to prompt debate about Syria’s crackdown on six months of unrest, during which the United Nations says 2,700 people have been killed.

His comments were the latest public gesture of support by a Western envoy for protesters calling for Assad’s downfall.

U.S. ambassador Robert Ford and his French counterpart Eric Chevallier visited Hama in July to show solidarity with tens of thousands of protesters. Ford has also taken to Facebook to denounce attempts to crush dissent, and joined several ambassadors at the wake of a prominent activist two weeks ago.

Collis said his decision to start blogging was triggered earlier this month when Syria passed a “terrible milestone” — six months of unrest and repression.

“The Syrian regime doesn’t want you to know that its security forces and the gangs that support them are killing, arresting and abusing mostly peaceful protesters,” he wrote.

Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed groups and terrorists, backed by foreign powers. They say more than 700 soldiers and police have been killed, and a similar number of civilians.

Residents and activists have reported an increasing number of army desertions in recent weeks, particularly in regions around the city of Homs, triggering a new crackdown and increasing clashes between loyal army forces and defectors.

Collis praised the “skill, daring and ingenuity” of activists who download video clips showing Syrian security forces “firing into crowds of unarmed protesters, or abusing detainees”.

He also dismissed Assad’s promised reforms as hollow.

“Some laws are indeed being passed, and there are more to come. But when you read the fine print, what you tend to find is that every path that’s signposted towards increased freedom and openness actually winds back through a chokepoint”.

Syria has barred most foreign reporters from Syria, making it hard to verify accounts from authorities or activists. Collis said restrictions on the media had tightened considerably since the uprising erupted in March.

“Over the last six months it’s got worse. A lot worse. The regime wants to create its own truth. We should not let it.”