Amnesty International says wave of arrests during uprising included abuses which constitute crimes against humanity.
Thousands of emails reportedly leaked from the private accounts of Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma, show the Syrian president took advice from Iran on how to handle the uprising against his rule and bypassed US sanctions to shop on iTunes, the UK Guardian newspaper has reported.
The London-based newspaper reported on Wednesday that it received 3,000 emails from “a source in the Syrian opposition” who intercepted them between last June and February.
There was no immediate response from Damascus.
Ian Katz, deputy editor of the Guardian, told Al Jazeera the newspaper went to “considerable lengths” to verify the emails, which he said shed light on the president and his relationship to the uprising.
“I think you do get a sense from a lot of the emails of a life in a gilded cocoon extraordinarily insulated from some of the horrors going on in the rest of the country,” Katz said.
More than 7,500 Syrians have been killed since the uprising began one year ago, according to the United Nations.
According to the Guardian, the emails show that Assad has received advice from Iran. Ahead of a speech in December, Assad’s media consultant said his advice to the president was based on “consultations with a good number of people in addition to the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador.”
“We are extremely confident that this email comes from the private email accounts of Assad and his wife.“
– Ian Katz, deputy editor
The memo advised Assad to use “powerful and violent” language and encouraged the regime to “leak more information related to our military capability” to convince the public that it could withstand a military challenge.
According to the purported emails from Assad, the president also was briefed in detail about the presence of Western journalists in the opposition-held Bab Amr district of Homs, and he was urged to “tighten the security grip” there in November, the report said. Several foreign journalists were among the hundreds of people killed in Homs over the past year.
One email to Asma al-Assad purportedly written by Mayassa Al Thani, a daughter of Qatar’s Emir, says ”my father regards President Bashar as a friend, despite the current tensions”.
Another email from Al Thani to Asma al-Assad in January suggests that it might be a good opportunity for the family to leave Syria. “I am sure you have many places to turn to, including Doha,” the email concludes.
According to the Guardian, Asma al-Assad spent tens of thousands of dollars buying luxury goods online, including gold jewellery, chandeliers and furniture.
The emails also suggest a loving relationship between the president and first lady.
In one email cited, Asma al-Assad informs her husband she will be done at 5pm. The president responds by making light of the changes he has promised in Syria, saying: “This is the best reform any country can have that u told me where will you be, we are going to adopt it instead of the rubbish laws of parties, elections, media…….”
According to the Guardian, Bashar al-Assad bypassed US sanctions on Syria by registering his iTunes account in another name and a New York address.
On February 5, the report said, he sent his wife an iTunes file of the US country star Blake Shelton singing “God Gave Me You”.
Other reported downloads include Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs and songs including “Don’t Talk Just Kiss” by Right Said Fred, “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order and “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO.
In an attempt to verify the emails’ authenticity, the Guardian contacted 10 people whose emails were among those received.”All have confirmed the time and content of the emails or refused to deny they are genuine,”the Guardian said.
“Our reporters over the last 10 days or so have been to considerable lengths to verify that the mails are genuine,” the Guardian’s Katz told Al Jazeera.
“We obviously can’t rule out the possibility that some of the material has been tampered with or that we have only been allowed to see a limited selection of it,” Katz said.
“We are extremely confident that this email comes from the private email accounts of Assad and his wife.”