Syrian Deputy Oil Minister Abdo Hussameldin has announced his defection on YouTube, becoming the first high ranking civilian official to abandon President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising against his rule erupted a year ago.
“I Abdo Hussameldin, deputy oil and mineral wealth minister in Syria, announce my defection from the regime, resignation from my position and withdrawal from the Baath Party. I join the revolution of this dignified people,” Hussameldin said in a YouTube video uploaded on Wednesday and seen early on Thursday.
“I say to this regime: you have inflicted on those who you claim are your people a whole year of sorrow and sadness, denying them basic life and humanity and driving Syria to the edge of the abyss,” he said, adding the country’s economy was “near collapse”.
The authenticity of the video, which was taken at an undisclosed location, could not be immediately confirmed.
Assad appointed Hussameldin, 58, to his position through a presidential decree in 2009.
Wearing a suit and tie, Hussameldin looked relaxed as he stared directly into the camera in a tight head and shoulders shot, appearing to read from a prepared statement on his lap as he sat on a dark grey chair against a yellow background.
“I have been in government for 33 years. I did not want to end my career serving the crimes of this regime. I have preferred to do what is right although I know that this regime will burn my house and persecute my family,” he said, according to Reuters.
The government, which is controlled by Assad’s minority Alawite sect, which has dominated power in Syria for the past five decades, has effectively stopped functioning in provinces that have been at the forefront of the uprising, such as Homs and the northwest province of Idlib, opposition sources say.
But public defections have remained rare among the civilian branches of the state. Assad’s opponents attribute this to the tight control of the secret police and the fear of retribution against the families of any would-be defectors.
They point to what they say are several killings by Assad’s forces of family members of high profile defectors from the military.
Thousands of mostly Sunni soldiers and conscripts, who make the bulk of the army, have deserted since the uprising broke out last March, with more officers deserting in the past months, although Assad still retains control of the main forces.
In late August, Mohammad al-Bakkour, the attorney general of the province of Hama declared on YouTube he had resigned in protest against the suppression of street demonstrations and the storming of the city of Hama by tanks.
Bakkour has not been heard from since and some opposition sources say the video was made under pressure from rebels.