An unusual event happened in Syria recently. Tens of thousands of Syrian demonstrators took to the streets, and they were not met with bullets, batons or tear gas canisters wielded by Syrian security forces. They were able to shout slogans, recite poetry, and wave flags – all in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Commenting on the pro-Assad demonstration in Damascus, U.S. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said, "Regimes of this type -- autocratic, dictatorial regimes -- are very capable of doing 'rent-a-crowd' when necessary:"
"That doesn’t change the fact that, in cities across Syria, peaceful protesters are protesting against this regime. And those people are facing brutality on a daily basis, whether it is Syrian security forces firing on them, whether it is arrests, whether it is torture, imprisonment, et cetera."
One recent example of brutality in Syria is the murder of prominent Syrian Kurdish dissident Meshaal Tammo on October 7th. Mr. Tammo, a leader of the Kurdish Future party, as well as a member of the newly formed, broadly-based Syrian National Council, was gunned down inside the home of a friend. Three weeks before, Mr. Tammo had escaped an effort to kill him by armed men in a car, an effort he described as "an assassination attempt by the regime." Mr. Tammo, who was imprisoned for more than two years by the government, was an advocate of a secular, democratic Syria based on the rule of law and equality among citizens.
On the same day that Mr. Tammo was killed, prominent opposition figure and former political prisoner Riad Sayf was brutally beaten on a Damascus street in broad daylight.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney condemned the assassination of Mr. Tammo and the vicious assault against Mr. Sayf. "These acts lay bare again that the Assad regime's promises for dialogue and reform are hollow," he said in a statement."[They] demonstrate the Syrian regime's latest attempts to shut down peaceful opposition inside Syria. President Assad must step down now before taking his country further down this very dangerous path."
Tens of thousands of people attended Mr. Tammo's funeral in the city of Qamishli [kom-mish-lee]. Witnesses said that Syrian security forces fired into the crowd, killing five people.
The United States strongly rejects violence directed against peaceful political dissenters. We stand in solidarity with the courageous people of Syria who peacefully advocate for their universal rights.