Syria’s deputy oil minister has announced his defection in an online video, making him the highest ranking official to abandon President Bashar Assad’s regime since the country’s uprising erupted a year ago.
Abdo Husameddine said he was defecting because of the “brutal” crackdown on dissent which has claimed the life of thousands of Syrians in the past year.
There has been a steady stream of army defectors who have joined a group of dissidents known as the Free Syrian Army, now numbering in the thousands, but civilian government officials have remained largely loyal to Assad’s regime.
In the video posted on YouTube, Husameddine identified himself as an “assistant” to the oil minister and a member of the ruling Baath Party. Ministers in Syria may have several assistants, known as deputies. He is shown wearing a suit and tie and sitting on a sofa, reading from a paper.
“I, Abdo Husameddine, deputy oil and mineral resources minister, announce my defection from the regime and resignation from my post... and declare that I am joining the dignified people’s revolution,” he said.
He appeared to address Assad directly. “You have inflicted on those you claim are your people a full year of sorrow and sadness, denied them the their basic rights to life and humanity and pushed the country to the edge of the abyss,” he said.
“I do not want to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime,” said Husameddine, adding that he has served 33 years in various government positions. It was not clear when or where the video was filmed, and there was no immediate comment from Damascus.
There have been numerous military defections recently, including Syrian brigadier-general Mostafa Ahmad al-Sheik who fled to Turkey in January, becoming the highest-ranking officer to defect.
In late August, Adnan Bakkour, the attorney general of the central city of Hama, announced in a video he had defected from the regime. Authorities reported he had been kidnapped and said he was being kept against his will by gunmen. He has not been heard of since.