Further Restrictions on Freedom of Expression Affect Even the Slightest Criticism of the Syrian Regime’s Corruption
Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) announced in its latest report, released today, that it documented at least 143 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detentions in January 2022, including two children, noting that further restrictions on freedom of expression affect even the slightest criticism of the Syrian regime’s corruption.
The 19-page report explains that most of the arrests in Syria are carried out without any judicial warrant while the victims are passing through checkpoints or during raids, with the security forces of the regime’s four main intelligence services often responsible for extra-judicial detentions. Every detainee is tortured from the very first moment of his or her arrest and denied any opportunity to contact his or her family or to have access to a lawyer. The authorities also flatly deny the arbitrary arrests they have carried out and most of the detainees are subsequently categorized as forcibly disappeared.
This report outlines the record of arbitrary arrests/detentions it recorded in January 2022 by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, as well as shedding light on the most notable individual cases and incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention that the SNHR’s team documented during the same period, in addition to categorizing cases and incidents of arrest according to the location of the incident. The report does not include those kidnappings and abductions in which the report was unable to identify the responsible party. The report also documents arbitrary arrests that subsequently turned into enforced disappearances.
The report notes that Syrian regime forces have continued to persecute and target Syrian citizens in areas under regime control in connection with their political dissent and expression of opinions, despite the right to both being guaranteed by the constitution and international law. This proves once again the truth of the crucial point which we have reiterated several times previously, namely that no Syrian citizen can feel safe from arrest since these are carried out without any basis in law or any oversight by any independent judiciary, and are perpetrated by the security services with no involvement by the judiciary. Following these arrests, detainees are routinely classified as forcibly disappeared persons, and therefore the areas under the control of the Syrian regime cannot be considered to constitute any sort of safe haven for residents there; all this underlines the fact that regime-controlled areas of Syria are very definitely not a safe haven for the return of refugees or IDPs. The report stresses that there will be no stability or safety in light of the survival of the regime’s brutal security services, who have committed crimes against humanity since 2011 and are still continuing to do so up to the current date. The report adds that among the arrests and detentions documented by SNHR in January were those by Syrian regime forces that continued in January to persecute and arrest individuals who had concluded settlements of their security status with the Syrian regime in areas that had previously concluded settlement agreements with the regime; these arrests have been concentrated in Damascus Suburbs and Daraa governorates, with most occurring during campaigns of mass raids and arrests and at checkpoints.
The report also recorded arrests targeting civilians, in connection with their criticism of the deteriorating living conditions in the regime-held areas. In addition, the report records random incidents of arrests of citizens in Damascus Suburbs governorate, with most occurring during campaigns of mass raids and arrests, which we believe were based on malicious security reports issued due to the targeted individuals’ opposition to the Syrian regime. The report also documents separate arrests in many Syrian governorates, most notably Damascus and Aleppo, in connection with civilians receiving money transfers from their relatives outside Syria.
As the report documents, the regime’s security services carried out arrests against civilians who had previously been released from regime detention centers, with these arrests being carried out with the aim of materially extorting the families of detainees.
The report also documents arrests targeting a number of returning civilians, all refugees and IDPs, after they returned to their original areas, now back under the control of Syrian regime forces; these were concentrated in Hama and Aleppo.
In the context of cases in which individuals were released in January, the report records the release of at least 18 detainees held by the Syrian regime, most of them from Damascus Suburbs, Daraa, and Hama governorates, who were released after the end of their arbitrarily imposed sentences. As the report reveals, the former detainees spent an average period of between one and three years in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, within extremely poor conditions which included being subjected to torture, and enduring an almost complete lack of healthcare and medical care, and severe overcrowding, while all had been arrested without receiving any explanation of the reasons for their detention and without any arrest warrants being provided.
The report notes that on January 25, 2022, the Syrian regime issued Legislative Decree No. 3 of 2022 granting a general amnesty to internal and external crimes of desertion from military service committed before January 25, 2022. The report stresses that SNHR did not monitor any releases under this decree.
Syrian Democratic Forces continued enforcing the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in January. The report records campaigns of mass raids and arrests carried out by SDF personnel targeting civilians on the pretext of fighting ISIS cells, with some of these campaigns backed by US-led coalition helicopters. The report also documents an arrest of a member of the Kurdish Yekiti Party, who was released after being severely beaten in Hasaka city. In addition to these cases, the report documents the Syrian Democratic Forces kidnapping two children with the aim of taking them to its training and recruitment camps and forcibly conscripting them.
As for Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, the report records in January, detaining of civilians carried out by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham. These arrests occurred due to the detainees expressing opinions critical of the HTS’s management of areas under its control. These detentions were carried out arbitrarily in the form of raids in which HTS members stormed their victims’ homes, often breaking down the doors, or by abducting their victims while they were traveling or passing through temporary checkpoints, or through issuing summons for interrogation by the Ministry of Justice of the HTS’ Salvation Government. The report also records arrests carried out by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham personnel of civilians affiliated with Hizb ut-Tahrir in connection with their criticism of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, as well as the arrests of a number of sheikhs from inside a Quran memorization institute in Idlib city.
As the report reveals, all Armed Opposition factions/ Syrian National Army also continued carrying out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings in January, most of which were carried out on a mass scale, targeting individuals coming from areas controlled by the Syrian regime. In addition, we documented detentions carried out under an ethnic pretext, with these incidents being concentrated in areas under the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army’s control in Aleppo governorate. Most of these arrests occurred without judicial authorization and without the participation of the police force, which is the legitimate administrative authority responsible for arrests and detentions through the judiciary, with these arrests also carried out without presenting any clear charges against those being detained.
The report documents at least 143 cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention in January 2022, including two children, with 116 of these cases subsequently categorized as cases of enforced disappearance, all at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria; 81 of these were carried out at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces detained 37 individuals, including two children. The report also notes that all Armed Opposition factions/ Syrian National Army detained 17 individuals, while Hay’at Tahrir al Sham detained eight individuals.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions in January across the governorates. The analysis of the data for this period shows that Damascus suburbs saw the largest number of arbitrary arrests/detentions, followed by the governorates of Aleppo, Deir Ez-Zour, Raqqa, then Hasaka.
As the report reveals, the vast majority of detainees involved in the popular uprising for democracy in Syria, including political and human rights activists, media workers, and relief activists, and similar prisoners of conscience, have been accused by the security branches of several charges based on testimonies taken from detainees by the regime under coercion, intimidation and torture, which are documented within regime security authorities’ reports, with these security reports being referred to the Public Prosecution Service, after which the majority of these cases are referred to either the Counter-Terrorism Court or the Military Field Court; the lowest conditions of fair courts do not meet in these courts, which are also closer to a military-security branch.
The report notes that the issue of detainees and forcibly disappeared persons is one of the most crucial human rights issues in Syria which there has been no progress in resolving despite its inclusion in several UN Security Council resolutions, as well as in UN General Assembly resolutions, in Kofi Annan’s plan, and finally in the statement of cessation of hostilities issued in February 2016, and in Security Council resolution 2254 of December 2015.
The report stresses that the Syrian regime has not fulfilled any of its obligations in any of the international treaties and conventions it has ratified, most particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It has also violated several articles of the Syrian Constitution itself, with thousands of detainees detained without any arrest warrant for many years, without charges, and prevented from appointing a lawyer and from receiving family visits. 68 percent of all detentions documented have subsequently been categorized as enforced disappearance cases.
The report notes that the other parties (Syrian Democratic Forces, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham and all Armed Opposition factions/ Syrian National Army) are also all obliged to implement the provisions of international human rights law, and that they have committed widespread violations through arrests and enforced disappearances.
The report calls on the Security Council to follow through in the implementation of Resolution 2042, Resolution 2043, and Resolution 2139.
The report stresses that the UN and the guarantor parties at Astana should form an impartial special committee to monitor cases of arbitrary arrest, and reveal the fate of the 102,000 missing persons in Syria, 85 percent of whom are detained by the Syrian regime. The report adds that pressure should be applied on all parties to immediately reveal their detention records in accordance with a timetable, and to immediately make detainees’ whereabouts public, and allow humanitarian organizations and the International Committee of Red Cross to have direct access to them.
Lastly, the report emphasizes that children and women should be released, and families and friends of detainees or wanted individuals should not be detained as prisoners of war, with the report also providing additional recommendations.