Four days after Syrian-born Malek Jandali participated in a Washington, D.C. protest to support the demonstrations rocking his home country, his parents in Syria received a visit from the country's security forces. Agents handcuffed his father, beat up his mother and told the family that, "this is what you get when your son mocks the government," Jandali said.
The case of Jandali and his parents is one of many described in a new report by Amnesty International that details the stories of Syrians living abroad who have been harassed by security agents and embassy personnel. Amnesty says that Syrians loyal to the regime of President Bashar Assad have monitored the activities of countrymen abroad and threatened and harassed them, in some cases even visiting and hassling their families in Syria. The organization collected testimonies of Syrian families in Europe, the United States, Latin America and Canada who claim to have been monitored and intimidated by Assad regime officials.
"The long reach of the feared Syrian mukhabaraat, or intelligence services, seems to be in evidence," the organization writes.
Jandali, a pianist and composer, came to the United States in 1994 to continue his musical training. He had played one of his songs, "Watani Ana," or, "I Am My Homeland," during the Washington protest. In Arabic, the song's lyrics include, “O my homeland, when will I see you free?”
"When I called the Syrian ambassador to the U.S. about what happened to my parents, he advised me to play music instead of getting involved in politics," Jandali told The Huffington Post. "He told me I had been brainwashed by watching too much CNN and Al Jazeera, that I should be open for dialogue."
Threatening phone calls forced the pianist to change his phone number. Menacing messages increasingly spammed his Facebook wall.
Amnesty's report mentions several other Syrians who claim their Facebook activities were monitored by Syrian regime loyalists.
"I receive messages on my Facebook all the time," Ahed Al-Hindi, 26, told The Huffington Post. "They could be from stark Assad-supporters, or from people working for the regime."
Al-Hindi, a former political prisoner who now lives in the United States, had long been familiar with officials of the Embassy of Syria in Washington, as he belonged to a group of Syrian dissidents who frequently staged protests outside the embassy in the U.S. capital.
"Yet when the uprising in Syria started, we got concerned," Al-Hindi said. "And our concerns were proved when some protesters' family members in Syria received threats."
Al-Hindi said that security agents in Syria threatened to kill family members of his friend, who prefers to remain anonymous. The agents reportedly gave the family a photo showing his friend protesting in Washington. The angle the photo was taken at suggests that it was shot from inside the embassy, said Al-Hindi.
According to the Amnesty report, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security called Syrian Ambassador Imad Mustapha into the State Department July 6 to express a number of concerns, and is looking into the reported surveillance actions of Syrian embassy staff.
The report quoted a July 8 State Department announcement, "The United States Government takes very seriously reports of any foreign government actions attempting to intimidate individuals in the United States."
Bloomberg's Businessweek reported that Syria's mission in Washington denied the allegations and called them "preposterous."
“There have been concerted efforts recently by individuals and the media to spread lies and distortions regarding the embassy of Syria,” an emailed statement from the Syrian mission said.
The Syrian embassy was not immediately available for comment Thursday evening.
Protestors have been challenging the Syrian regime since mid-March, demanding reforms and greater civil participation in the government and politics of the autocratic country. Assad has countered the demonstrations with a merciless security crackdown which, according to U.N. estimates, already has left 2,700 dead.
Clashes between protesters and regime loyalists have intensified in the past few weeks. On Monday, security forces reportedly detained 3,000 people in the town of Rastan.
Jandali said the assault on his parents only made him more determined to fight for freedom in his country.
"After we published photos of my parents taken after the assault, security forces raided and ransacked our home in Syria," he said. "They were there to kill my parents, but they already left for the United States. We captured everything on security cameras and the first thing that entered my home were guns. Yet what happened to my parents only gives me more determination, more courage."
He added, "The people will never be silenced anymore."