The recent airstrikes by the U.S., Great Britain and France against Syrian chemical weapons sites have led to growing concerns over the safety of Christians in Syria. A prevalent misconception is that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is a civilized “protector” of Syria’s Christians. In reality, Assad’s treatment of Christians in Syria is nothing short of tyrannical.
Legally banned from becoming head of state, Syrian Christians are viewed as mere pawns in the Assad regime’s maintenance of power and have never been granted true freedom of religion. The regime is responsible for the destruction of over 60 percent of all the churches in Syria that were destroyed during the civil war, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
“Assad does not protect Christians. He is only using them for propaganda purposes,” says Shabnam Assadollahi, an award-winning human rights advocate of Iranian descent who was imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin prison at the age of 16. Ms. Assadollahi advocates for the emancipation of women and minority religious communities throughout the world.
“The genius who opened Syria to the Internet was a Christian Arab named Bassel Khartabil,” says Ms. Assadollahi. “For this tremendous work, he was rewarded by being arrested and tortured by the Assad regime. My sources say that he was held in detention for three years. We only recently learned of his execution, several years after it had taken place.”
Khartabil was not Assad’s only victim. Hundreds of Syrian Christians seeking freedom have been jailed, tortured and shot to death by Assad’s thugs. This includes the Syrian engineer and filmmaker Bassel Shehadeh, who had abandoned a Fulbright scholarship in the U.S. to document Assad’s military crackdown on the city of Homs. After Assad’s forces killed Shehadeh during a protest, his family was barred from holding a funeral mass and accepting condolences.