Tuesday 24 January 2012 7:06 pm

On 25th November last year, a British foreign correspondent called Johnson Miller was taken, under armed secret police escort, to the southern Syrian city of Dera’a.  He was accompanied by four Syrian government minders – and a driver (who was a secret policeman too).

“Johnson” turned out to be me.

johnsonmiller1 300x201 Syria, where everything is normal, according to Johnson.“Johnson Miller” in Syria, credit: SANA

It was the name by which the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) quoted me as saying that everything in Dera’a was “quite normal.”   (That’s one of my  minders, Monzer, by the way, sitting on my left in the photograph.)

Johnson’s “situation normal” quotation confused me as it was very clear to his alter ego, the foreign correspondent Jonathan Miller, that things in Dera’a were far from normal (as, I hope, was clear from the TV report we filed).

So surprising was my “situation normal” pronouncement that it prompted the Foreign Editor of Britain’s own state broadcaster, to tweet:  “Oh dear. Suspect C4N can do without official Syrian endorsement.”

Oh dear, indeed.  But since my visit, I’ve realised that the Syrian regime is so keen to convey to the world that “life is normal” in Dera’a that every hapless correspondent who bowls up there is asked by the local SANA reporter whether, in their opinion, um, life is normal.

Have a look:  It’s unbelievable!

(And, by the way, I would just like to state to the minders and their masters in the Syrian regime:  THIS BEHAVIOUR IS DEFINITELY NOT NORMAL!)

“Normal life in Daraa belies reports of misleading media” – SANA, 14 Dec 2011

“Life in Dara Normal, Reports of Biased Channels Contradict Reality” – SANA, 01 Jan 2012

“Spanish, Japanese and Italien Media Delegain Stress Normal Life in Daraa”– SANA, 11 Jan 2012

The reason they’re so keen to report that life is normal is that Dera’a has been chronically unstable ever since it emerged as the cradle of the Syrian revolution in March last year.

For weeks on end, its people were besieged by government tanks. Many of those who dared to openly defy the regime were shot dead in the streets by snipers.  Hundreds are thought to have been killed; thousands have been imprisoned.