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WikiLeaks: 2006-03-09: 06DAMASCUS1054: Civil Society Activists Protesting 43 Years of Emergency Law Face Well-Organized Counterdemonstration

by WikiLeaks. 06DAMASCUS1054: March 09, 2006.

Posted: Sunday, February 05, 2012 at 12:02 PM UTC


Viewing cable 06DAMASCUS1054, CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVISTS PROTESTING 43 YEARS OF

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06DAMASCUS1054 2006-03-09 14:17 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy
Damascus
VZCZCXYZ0012
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDM #1054/01 0681417
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 091417Z MAR 06
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7621
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0687
C O N F I D E N T I A L DAMASCUS 001054 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
LONDON FOR TSOU, PARIS FOR ZEYA 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/09/2016 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SY
SUBJECT: CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVISTS PROTESTING 43 YEARS OF 
EMERGENCY LAW FACE WELL-ORGANIZED COUNTERDEMONSTRATION 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Stephen A. Seche
for reasons 1.4(b)/(d) 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY: A group of approximately fifty civil-society 
activists staged a protest against 43 years of Emergency Law 
at the Palace of Justice in downtown Damascus on March 9. 
There was little visible uniformed security in the area, one 
of Damascus's main pedestrian thoroughfares.  A 
well-outfitted but rowdy group of about 300 young people, 
many university and high school students, marched to the 
Palace of Justice and staged a pro-regime 
counterdemonstration, seizing placards from the civil society 
protesters and chanting pro-Syrian and pro-Bashar al-Asad 
slogans.  As both protests began to wane, pro-regime 
demonstrators began to attack small groups of remaining civil 
society protesters, beating them with sticks used to carry 
the Syrian flag.  Early information from human rights 
organizations indicate about ten to fifteen injured 
protesters, but no arrests.  END SUMMARY. 
 
2.  (C)  Approximately fifty protesters staged a peaceful 
demonstration to express their opposition to the existence of 
Emergency Law in Syria, still in force after forty-three 
years of Ba'th Party rule, at the Palace of Justice in 
downtown Damascus, which serves as a main criminal courthouse 
for the city.  The demonstration, reportedly organized by the 
Damascus Declaration group, was publicly announced on the 
reformist website arraee.com and by word of mouth among 
activists.  Participants included members of the Human Rights 
Association of Syria and the Atassi Forum, as well as 
individual activists and rights lawyers.  Another thirty to 
forty human rights and opposition activists, as well as 
Poloff and representatives from the Norwegian and Canadian 
embassies, were also present as observers.  The protesters 
gathered quietly in front of the main gate of the Palace of 
Justice, and at precisely 1:00 p.m., brought out placards 
with a variety of slogans protesting the continuation of 
Emergency Law and shouted slogans. 
 
3.  (C)  Nearly simultaneously, a counterdemonstration of 
young people appeared, marching towards the Palace of 
Justice, with many bearing large, brand-new Syrian flags, 
mounted posters of Bashar al-Asad, and wearing brand-new 
white baseball caps bearing the Syrian flag.  Led by a 
30-something organizer who directed both the movements and 
chants of the students throughout the event, the 
counterdemonstrators chanted pro-Bashar and pro-Syrian 
slogans, such as "Allah, Bashar, and Syria only" and 
"Traitors Get Out."  They created a semi-circle around the 
civil society protesters, and began swarming forward, pushing 
and eventually displacing the civil society protesters from 
the locked gate of the Palace.  They also seized the placards 
out of the hands of the civil society protesters, and at one 
point gathered all the ripped-up posters together and threw 
them in the air. When asked by Poloff why they had come, a 
group of counterdemonstrating university students answered 
"because of March 8" and "to beat the 'enemy'."  Another 
group of 17- and 18-year old high school students said they 
had been given the afternoon off.  Indeed, after about 20 
minutes, many of the students could be seen drifting off 
towards the nearby Hamadiya bazaar. 
 
4.  (C)  However, a core group of about 150 aggressive males 
remained and began to split off into groups and, at the 
direction of the protest organizer, charged towards the 
remaining civil society activists, using flagpoles and sticks 
as weapons.  Poloff witnessed one individual (it is unclear 
whether he was an activist) being chased by a group of about 
fifteen students, as well as the assault of one activist, who 
was swarmed by students and hit atop the head.  Other 
observers reported similar beatings.  No action to prevent 
the assaults was taken by the small number of police officers 
present.  (NOTE: The only obvious increase in police presence 
was the stationing of five uniformed officers in front of the 
Palace's main entrance, behind the locked main gate, and the 
addition of a paddywagon. END NOTE)  According to human 
rights activist Anwar al-Bunni, at least ten to fifteen 
protesters (including prominent activists Hassan Abdulazeem, 
Ali Abdullah, and the head of an Assyrian organization) were 
beaten, as was a female journalist who identified herself as 
such to her assailants.  Bunni noted that the assailants were 
a mixture of security service thugs and students. 
 
5.  (C) COMMENT:  As with the March 10 demonstration last 
year, also against the Emergency Law, the SARG succeeded in 
breaking up the assembly without having to bring out 
uniformed security forces or, as it currently stands, 
arresting anyone.  The SARG continues to summon genuine 
students as protesters, some of them aggressive Ba'th Party 
 
activists all-too-willing to beat up on outnumbered civil 
society activists.  The usual core group of aggressive 
security service agents helped out where they could.  END 
COMMENT. 
SECHE

 


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