Syrian Lawyers Break Ranks With Assad's Regime To Lead Sit-In Protests
Lawyers in Syria have defied Bashar al-Assad's regime as it continues a violent crackdown against country-wide protests, by taking part in a series of co-ordinated sit-ins.
Around 100 lawyers, traditionally allies or members of the ruling Baath party, have come together under the name "Syrian Lawyers For Freedom", holding protests outside bar associations in at least four regions of the country on Tuesday.
In Damascus, the capital, around 12 lawyers led a protest in broad daylight in front of the Bar Association building, rights group Avaaz told The Huffington Post UK.
Simultaneous protests were also held in Aleppo (Syria's largest city), Hasaka, and Swaida, rights groups said. The claims were difficult to verify due to the restrictions placed on foreign media in the country.
The protests have enhanced significance given the high standing in which lawyers are held in Syria, and the fact that most - if not all - are members of the ruling Baath party due to the heavy pressures placed on them to join while in legal education.
As such while the protesting lawyers faced some intimidation from government forces, much of the opposition to the sit-ins came at the hands of other lawyers still loyal to the regime, according to rights groups and lawyers on the ground.
In Hasaka, it was reported online that the protesters were assaulted by "lawyer thugs" including the head of the Bar Association in the city.
In Aleppo too there were reports that the protesting lawyers faced verbal and physical abuse at the hands of other bar association members.
The protesting lawyers, however, are defiant and say in an online statement of their beliefs that they had a responsibility as lawyers to stand up to the abuses of the regime.
"The Syrian Bar Association long represented the regime and its security forces without commentary on Syrian society or its rights, and without invoking the legal immunities of lawyers," the statement said. "Today, as the people of Syria demand freedom and justice, and are prepared to give their souls to achieve their demands, lawyers pledge to protect the citizens of Syria to the best of their ability, and to offer what they can as a means of allowing Syrians to achieve their objectives."
One of the lawyers who protested in Damascus told the Huffington Post UK that while the protest was tacitly allowed to take place, in that it was not broken up by government forces, the lawyers fear further reprisals.
"The government didn't do anything to us, they let us do what we want," said the man, who asked to be identified as Tarek. "Because we are lawyers - not ordinary people. There were a group of regime people watching and they may have said some words, but in Damascus at least they let us protest."
The lawyers have taken to the streets, Tarek said, for the same reason as other protestors in the country.
“Freedom is our first and last demand," he said. "Because we are lawyers, we are asking that the security forces stop interfering in our lives. We ask for the defence of justice and civil rights.”
"We should do something, we can't stay watching what is happening and doing nothing. We should do anything we can. It will cost us but we should try, we should do anything. We can see people watching in the streets doing nothing."
"When I see my people being killed and sent to prison and I stand by and watch, I feel ashamed."
"It’s the smallest thing we can do, if you compare it with what other people are doing."
On the current situation in Libya, protesters told The Huffington Post UK that it gave them "hope" for their own future, but also made them fear for what would happen after the regime falls.
"It gives us hope, but we should watch what will happen after Gaddafi goes down. Are we going to a new Iraq? Or will there be a new Libya?"
"We are afraid some people think that using force is the solution. We have armed groups in Syria and they are killing both soldiers and civilians … We should be careful that the people may go with them."
For now, however, the lawyers say they are committed to the protest.
"We will continue till the end," Tarek said. "We had a dream and we should make it true."