The Syrian Regime Released 539 Individuals Under Decree No. 7 of 2022 and Arrested 124 Other Citizens Since the Decree Was Announced
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) announced in its latest report, released today, that it documented at least 1,024 arbitrary arrests/detentions in Syria in the first half of 2022, including 49 children and 29 women, with 164 of these cases documented in June, noting that the Syrian regime has released 539 individuals under Decree No. 7 of 2022 and arrested 124 other citizens since the decree was announced.
The 34-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 documented by SNHR in June and the first half of 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.
As the report notes, the laws and texts related to torture in the current Syrian constitution and law have not ended or reduced the frequency of torture in the Syrian regime’s detention centers. As the report explains, the state’s heavily centralized control of its detention centers means that it is highly unlikely that deaths due to torture could take place without the knowledge of the ruling regime. The report further notes that the Syrian regime bears responsibility for proving its claims that the deaths that occurred were not due to torture. The report emphasizes that this systematic torture and the many associated deaths involve not just one of the Syrian regime’s organs, but require the participation of several state institutions, the most prominent of which are: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, the security services, civil prisons, military hospitals, the judiciary, the Ministry of Awqaf, and the Office of Burial Services; this too indicates a high level of coordination and harmony between these institutions, which can only be achieved by senior-level management officials in the Syrian regime controlling all of these institutions.
In a related context, the report referred to Law No. 16 for 2022, issued by the Syrian regime’s President on March 30, 2022, criminalizing torture. The new legislation claims that the regime considers torture to be a felony requiring severe punishment for its perpetrator, or for those who participated in it, as well as those who provoked it. The report provides six key points demonstrating fundamental flaws in the text of the law itself, adding that this law will remain meaningless ink on paper and will not contribute in any way to deterring the security services from practicing torture as long as the regime’s other repressive laws are in force, which are the ones on which the regime is based, including the texts that grant impunity to members of the security services from prosecution, conflicting with many articles of the General Penal Code and the current constitution; the survival of the exceptional criminal courts (military field court, counter-terrorism court) in Damascus; authorization of regime security services to investigate citizens for a period that often exceeds two months; the failure to reform the prison organization or subject it to judicial supervision; and the Executive Authority encroaching on the judiciary.
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 the first half of 2022 were those by Syrian regime forces that continued 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 the governorates of Damascus Suburbs, Daraa, Raqqa, and Deir Ez-Zour, with most occurring during campaigns of mass raids and arrests and at checkpoints. The report also records arrests carried out by the Syrian regime’s Criminal Security Branch targeting dozens of civilians, including government employees, lawyers, and university students, in connection with their criticism of the living conditions and corruption in the areas controlled by the Syrian regime, in addition to recording arrests of citizen journalists, including women, in the cities of Latakia, Tartus, and Damascus, on charges of cooperating in reporting news to foreign media outlets.
The report also documents random arrests of citizens, including Palestinian refugees, in Damascus Suburbs and Hama governorates, with most of these 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, as well as under the pretext that those arrested had failed to perform their reserve military service. In addition, the report records arrests targeting civilians in connection with making phone calls to people in areas outside regime control, and in relation to traveling and moving between areas under regime control and others controlled by other parties to the conflict. 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, or while they were trying to re-enter Syrian territory through illegal crossings. The report also documents the re-arrest of one woman who had been released under Amnesty Decree No. 7 of 2022.
As the report adds, on January 25, 2022, the Syrian regime issued a partial amnesty through 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 SNHR did not monitor any releases under this decree, because most of those covered by the decree are forced back into military service again before being released. The Syrian regime also issued Legislative Decree No. 7 of 2022 on April 30, 2022, granting a general amnesty for ‘terrorist’ crimes committed by Syrians before the date of April 30, 2022, except those which caused death to a human being. The report documents that the Syrian regime released about 539 people from various regime civil and military prisons and security branches in a number of Syrian governorates, including 61 women and 16 people who were children at the time of their arrest. Most of those released had been arrested during raids or while passing through the regime’s checkpoints, without receiving any explanation of the reasons for their detention and without any arrest warrants being presented, and had been detained in extremely poor conditions which included being subjected to torture, and enduring an almost complete lack of healthcare and medical care, as well as severe overcrowding. The photos obtained of a number of those released show the clear deterioration in the health conditions of the gaunt and emaciated released prisoners.
In June, the report documents arrests targeting a number of civilians in connection with their criticism of the difficult living conditions in regime-held areas; they were charged with a vague, general accusation, namely “spreading despair or weakness among members of society, “weakening the psyche of the nation’, and a series of other charges related to the regime’s cybercrime law. The report also documents random arrests of citizens in Suwayda governorate, most of which occurred during campaigns of mass raids and arrests carried out under the pretext that those arrested supposedly belonged to the Anti-Terrorism Force faction (a local faction in Suwayda city that is not affiliated with Syrian regime forces), and the Syrian Liwa Party.
In terms of releases, in June, the report documents that the Syrian regime released about seven people from various regime civil and military prisons and security branches in a number of Syrian governorates, including two women. In addition, the report documents in June the release of nine detainees held by the Syrian regime, most of them from Damascus Suburbs and Hama governorates, who were released from regime detention centers in Damascus governorate after the end of their arbitrarily imposed sentences, with their release not being linked to the Amnesty Law No.7/2022. These former detainees spent an average period of between one and three years in the Syrian regime’s detention centers. Also in June, the report documents a number of releases of detainees based on prisoner exchanges between the Syrian National Army and Syrian regime forces.
Meanwhile, Syrian Democratic Forces continued enforcing the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in June and the first half of 2022, with the number detained and forcibly disappeared increasing as SDF personnel continued carrying out campaigns of mass raids and detentions, targeting civilians on the pretext of fighting ISIS cells, with some of these campaigns backed by US-led coalition helicopters. The report also records random detentions targeting a number of civilians in Raqqa city, after the breakout from Ghwayran prison in the city on January 20, 2022, when dozens of detainees escaped from the prison. In addition to these cases, the report documents a number of arrests of members of the Kurdish Yekiti Party, who were released after being severely beaten in Hasaka city. The report also documents detentions targeting teachers, allegedly for calling on students to protest against the poor living conditions and services in areas under SDF control, with these arrests concentrated in Raqqa governorate. The report also documents arrests targeting media workers in Hasaka governorate over their criticism of the SDF’s policies. In addition, the report records detentions carried out by Syrian Democratic Forces in connection with an anti-SDF demonstration in Darnaj village in the suburbs of Deir Ez-Zour governorate, criticizing the living and service conditions in the areas under SDF control. The arrests were accompanied by the burning of some civilian homes in the village. The report also records the detention of internally displaced civilians from Homs governorate following raids on their current places of residence in random camps in Raqqa governorate.
The report also records Syrian Democratic Forces kidnapping children with the aim of taking them to its training and recruitment camps and forcibly conscripting them, preventing their families from communicating with them, and failing to disclose their fate.
The report records in June the detention of a number of civilians over their criticism of the living and service conditions in Raqqa city, as well as recording the detention of a civilian due to his appearance in a video report broadcast on Syria TV, in which he talked about Syrian Democratic Forces’ destruction of houses al Mouh neighborhood in Abo Hammam city in the suburbs of Deir Ez-Zour governorate.
As for Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, the first half of 2022 saw detentions of civilians, including media activists and politicians, carried by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham; most of these detentions 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. The report also documents in the first half of 2022 that Hay’at Tahrir al Sham continued carrying out detentions of humanitarian organizations’ activists and workers; most of these detentions 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. The report also documents 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.
Meanwhile, all Armed Opposition factions/Syrian National Army also continued carrying out arbitrary detentions and kidnappings, most of which were carried out on a mass scale, targeting individuals coming from areas controlled by the Syrian regime. In addition, the report documents detentions carried out under an ethnic pretext, with these incidents being concentrated in areas under all Armed Opposition factions/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. In addition to these cases, the report documents raids and detentions carried out by Syrian National Army personnel, targeting civilians, including women, and village headmen on charges of collaborating with Syrian Democratic Forces.
The report documents at least 1,024 cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions in the first half of 2022, including 49 children and 29 women (adult female), 796 of which have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance, with 471 of these carried out at the hands of Syrian regime forces, including four children and 11 women. It also documents 283 cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions at the hands of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, including 43 children and five women. The report documents 183 cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions, including 10 women, at the hands of all Armed Opposition factions/Syrian National Army. In addition, 87 cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions, including two children and three women, were recorded at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions in the first half of 2022 by Syrian governorates. The analysis of the data for this period shows that the highest rates of these cases were seen in Aleppo governorate, followed by the governorates of Damascus Suburbs, Raqqa, Deir Ez-Zour, Idlib, then Daraa.
In June 2022, the report documents at least 164 arbitrary arrests/detentions, including 11 children and six women, with 142 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; 67 of these, including three women, were carried out at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces detained 46 individuals, including 11 children and one woman. The report also notes that all Armed Opposition factions/Syrian National Army detained 37 individuals, including two women, while Hay’at Tahrir al Sham detained 14 individuals.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests/detentions in June across the governorates. The analysis of the data for this period shows that Aleppo governorate saw the highest rates of arbitrary arrests/detentions, followed by the governorates of Raqqa, Hasaka, then Damascus Suburbs.
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, relief activists, and similar prisoners of conscience, have been accused by the regime’s security branches of several charges based on testimonies taken from detainees by regime personnel 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.
In the report, SNHR again 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 immediately be released from captivity, and families and friends of detainees or wanted individuals should not be detained as prisoners of war, with the report also providing additional recommendations.