|08DAMASCUS59||2008-01-28 15:09:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Damascus|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L DAMASCUS 000059
1. (C) Summary. The SARG has placed a travel ban on
naturalized U.S. citizen and political reformer Bassam Ishak.
Ishak, a long-time Embassy contact, is currently weighing
his options but may ask the Embassy to intervene on his
behalf with the MFA. End Summary.
2. (C) The Syrian government has prevented Naturalized
American citizen and former candidate for Syrian Parliament
Bassam Ishak from leaving Syria for the U.S. on January 6 to
start a Masters degree course at George Mason University.
Ishak said he first became aware of the travel ban in May
2007. Before that Ishak asserted he was able to make several
previous trips to the U.S. and Canada without any harassment
from the security services since his return to Syria in 1995.
This time Ishak checked with the General Intelligence
Directorate (GID) several days before his trip and was told
&no.8 To date Ishak has received no word on the reason
behind his travel ban or what he can do to resolve the
situation. Each time Ishak has inquired about his case, the
security services told him to check back after a few days.
3. (C) Ishak believes that Ali Mamluk, head of the GID,
ordered the travel ban after sectarian comments during an
interfaith conference in 2005 were erroneously attributed to
Ishak. Ishak, currently weighing his options, told us that
he will continue to work his contacts with the Syrian
government as well as consult with his family and other
contacts in the U.S., which include members of Congress.
Ishak conceded that direct diplomatic pressure from the
Embassy could backfire and lead to an indefinite extension of
the travel ban. For the time being, Ishak has asked the
Embassy to hold off on any official action. In the meantime,
he has asked his Amcit brother, a professor at American
University, to raise his case with State officers and members
4. (C) Comment: Ishak's case is, to our knowledge, the first
time in recent memory that the SARG has sought to restrict an
Amcit from leaving Syria for the political work he has done
in Syria. Thus far, Ishak,s case has received some local
press coverage from pro-reform websites. We have advised
Ishak of our readiness to raise his case with the MFA as well
as the potential risk that doing so may harden the SARG's
5. (C) Bio Note: Ishak has been a long-time Embassy contact
and supporter of political reform in Syria. Ishak received
U.S. citizenship in 1985 while he was studying at American
University. His father, Saeed Ishak, was a Syrian
parliamentarian for 23 years. Despite his reformist
credentials, Ishak, an Assyrian Christian, has conspicuously
remained outside the Damascus Declaration and other organized
political opposition groups believing that independence would
allow him more opportunity to change the existing political
system from within. In fact, Ishak ran for Parliament in
Hassakeh province in April 2007 elections. Ishak says that
he received the most votes but the Ba,ath party manipulated
the results to ensure the regime-sponsored "independent" won.