LONDON, (Reuters) – Bashar al-Assad’s father-in-law, a London doctor who had been seen as a modernising influence on him, has been offering advice to the Syrian leader on how to depict his bloody crackdown on a popular uprising to the world, Britain’s Guardian newspaper said on Friday, quoting intercepted emails.
Fawaz Akhras, the father of Assad’s British-born wife Asma, sent his son-in-law suggestions on how to counter criticisms of his government in private emails to the Syrian president, according to the London daily.
The emails show the 66-year-old cardiologist offering moral support and public relations guidance to Assad, who has branded his opponents as “terrorists” and “armed gangs” steered by a foreign conspiracy to overthrow him.
They were part of a cache of 3,000 emails sent or received by the presidential couple between June last year and early February, obtained from an unnamed Syrian opposition member and which the Guardian says it believes are genuine.
They were published as huge crowds took to the streets of Syria’s cities in an orchestrated show of support for Assad on the first anniversary of the revolt against his repressive rule that shows no sign of ending.
In one email in December Akhras sent Assad an internet blog dismissing as “British propaganda” a Channel 4 TV documentary which showed video evidence of torture in Syria, adding that it “might be of some help towards drafting the embassy’s response”.
Earlier the same month, Akhras offered Assad and his wife a list of 13 points to rebut international criticism and help in “directing the argument or discussion toward the other side.”
In the message he accused Britain’s publicly-funded BBC of a “facts distortion policy” and asked why the U.N. Human Rights Council was so concerned about Syrian deaths when compared to the toll in last year’s overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
The list also cited the “harsh and inhuman attacks” on anti-capitalist demonstrators in Wall Street and London, as well as the U.S. “torture policy” at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Western and some Arab states have accused Assad’s forces or primary responsibility for a year of bloodshed in which more than 8,000 people have been killed, 230,000 displaced and rebellious cities wrecked by artillery barrages.
Assad faces growing international isolation, with Western and some fellow Arab states calling for him to step down and shutting down their embassies in Damascus, and economic meltdown at home with sanctions biting.
In one short message to his daughter in late December Akhras queried whether it was correct that a big New Year party was being organised for Damascus’s central Umayyad Square. “If so, is this the right time?” he wrote.
The Guardian said Akhras had not responded to requests for comment ahead of publication. Reuters was unable to reach Akhras for comment.
The Akhras messages cast more light on the rarefied private life of the Assads following the release of the first batch of messages by the Guardian on Wednesday.
They indicated that Assad had taken advice from Iran on countering the revolt and joked about his promises of reform. They portrayed a ruling family isolated from the uprising, with Asma shopping on the Internet and arranging for the delivery of luxury furniture and jewellery from London and Paris.