52 Media Workers Killed as a Result of Torture in Syrian Regime Detention Centers; Killing Witnesses Is a Deliberate Regime Tactic to Conceal Evidence
By: Baba Amro News
In its report released today, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals that the killing of witnesses to the Syrian regime’s crimes in the regime’s detention centers has become a deliberate strategy used to conceal the evidence.
In this regard, the 10-page report stresses that Syrian regime’s registration of the death of media activist Ali Othman in the civil registry department is a damning indictment of the regime.
The report states that incidents of the Syrian regime registering disappeared persons in the civil registry departments as dead took place repeatedly until the death data of the disappeared was provided to the civil registry departments in the form of lists, which the report asserts were probably provided by military bodies, such as the military judiciary, the military police and the security branches.
The report notes that there was a change in the policy on informing the families of the disappeared around the end of 2018 and early 2019, with the civil registry departments hiding the lists of disappeared persons who were registered as dead and preventing these lists from being presented collectively. In addition, the civil registry departments no longer directly hand over relatives’ death certificates to family members visiting the departments, instead requesting that the bereaved family members return later to obtain them. This request may be repeated several times. As the report explains, this tactic has probably been instructed by the security services for several reasons. First, such instructions further humiliate the family members, as well as helping to spread terror and fear in society; secondly, they increase desperation and despair among the family members that could lead some families to stop asking about their children’s fate; and finally, they avoid congestion and gatherings of the families of the disappeared in front of civil registry headquarters, reducing the spread of new reports about civil registry departments receiving data on the deaths of the forcibly disappeared, as it seems that they want to deliver the shocking news of death gradually over time.
The report further confirms that in four cases of forcibly disappeared persons whose deaths were announced recently in civil registry departments’ records, their families had already identified their loved ones’ fate, identifying them as being among the bodies of the regime torture victims seen in the photographs of ‘Caesar’ on March 8, 2015. These four cases were also included among the 890 cases the SNHR documented since May 2018 of the forcibly disappeared who have been registered as dead in the civil registry departments.
As the report states this intersection of evidence constitutes additional damning evidence against the Syrian regime. The families had already positively identified the bodies of their relatives via the ‘Caesar’ photos, which were originally intended to document the bodies of detainees who died as a result of torture; meanwhile the civil registry departments registering these individuals as dead, along with the Syrian regime and its security services who arrested these people and tortured them to death, concealing their fate for years, before announcing through the civil registry departments that they had died.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the SNHR, states:
“We have been able to document 890 cases since May 2018 so far, of which four cases have been included in the Caesar photos, but we do not know how many among those named as forcibly disappeared are in the lists distributed by the Syrian regime to civil registry departments to be registered as dead. Do they include the 82,000 forcibly disappeared by the regime? Or only a few thousand? We do not have a specific answer, and we could not obtain the lists, but it is certain that the Syrian regime manipulates Syrian society and treats the people as less than slaves.”
The report highlights the case of media activist Ali Othman whose family received confirmation of his death at the Civil Registry Department in Homs city when they went there to obtain a family registration statement; in the remarks column of the statement was a notification that he had died on December 30, 2013. Ali was arrested by Syrian regime forces on March 28, 2012, subsequently appearing on regime-run state TV satellite channel giving ‘confessions’ consistent with the Syrian regime’s version of events; as the report states, these were most probably extracted from him under torture and threats.
The report notes that Ali Othman was one of the witnesses to several types of violations committed by the Syrian regime in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs city, and also witnessed the incident in which foreign journalists, most famously the journalist Marie Colvin, were deliberately targeted and killed by the regime while they were carrying out their work at the Baba Amr Media Center. The Syrian regime’s murder of Ali in its prisons is clear evidence of its blatant distortion of the facts and of its policy of terrorizing media workers and journalists and silencing their voices.
The report stresses that Ali’s appearance on a regime-run state TV channel is further confirmation that Syrian Regime forces were responsible for his arrest, and that the regime’s preventing his family or any lawyer from visiting him during his imprisonment and issuing notification of his death via the civil registry while giving no cause of death are further evidence of the Syrian regime’s culpability for torturing and killing him. The Syrian regime also failed to investigate any of the deaths in its detention centers, and failed to hold any of the perpetrators accountable.
The report notes that at least 14,009 civilians have been killed as a result of torture in the Syrian regime’s detention centers between March 2011 and April 2019, including at least 52 media workers, while at least 349 media workers are still detained or forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime. Some of these individuals may already have been killed under torture.
The report stresses that all these actions by the Syrian regime, including arrest, forcibly disappearance, and killing under torture, as well as informing families when their loved ones were killed, postponing release of this information for years, then informing them through the civil registry departments and not handing over the body, further confirm that the mindset and techniques of the ruling authorities resemble those of a Mafia family rather than a government.
The report notes that the Syrian regime has undoubtedly committed a large number of violations in these incidents, primarily the deliberate concealment of the fate of 90 percent of the detainees who it imprisons and tortures by the most cruel and sadistic methods, leaving them to suffer to death, as well as the humiliation and terrorizing of wider society and the detainees’ families by depriving them of the most basic rights and fundamental human dignity by not informing them of the deaths of their loved ones, or refraining from handing over their bodies and finally registering them as dead without the families’ knowledge.
The Syrian regime has also clearly violated the second paragraph of Article 53 of the Syrian Constitution of 2012, and violated Article 391 of the Syrian Penal Code on the prohibition of torture and the punishment of perpetrators. It has also ensured that protection and immunity are reserved for the security services through legislation effectively licensing their crimes, specifically Article 16 of Law No. 14 of 1969, under which immunity is granted to security personnel in the event of committing crimes, so they cannot be prosecuted without the consent of the commander in charge. The Syrian regime has also committed the crime of torture against its opponents in the midst of the internal armed conflict as part of a widespread, systematic and deliberate manner against civilians and detainees, which amounts to a crime against humanity and a war crime under articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The report calls on the Security Council and the United Nations to impose sanctions on the Syrian regime, beginning with an arms embargo and diplomatic boycotts, and escalating to military sanctions in the event that the regime continues to commit the horrendous violations, as it is doing until now, in addition to taking the initiative in the Syrian situation and resorting to the application of the principle of Union for Peace, given the total paralysis in the Security Council due to the Russian-Chinese veto.
The report recommends to the protection of civilians detained by the Syrian regime from torture and death, and rescuing those who remain alive and the establishment of a mechanism to compel the Syrian regime to end its practices of torture, and to force it to reveal the whereabouts of the bodies of its victims and to hand these over to their families.
The report calls on all UN relief agencies to search for families that have lost family members due to torture, to ensure that aid is continuously delivered to their beneficiaries, and to initiate rehabilitation.
The report urges all states which are parties to the Convention against Torture to take the necessary measures to establish their jurisdiction over perpetrators of torture and to make all necessary material and security efforts for this objective, and to take serious punitive measures against the Syrian regime to deter it from continuing to kill Syrian citizens under torture.
The report stresses the importance of ensuring that the Syrian regime immediately stops using all torture methods and deploying the capabilities of the Syrian state in the torture and terror of society, and ensuring that it immediately allows access to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, the International Committee of the Red Cross and all objective human rights organizations, and is compelled to immediately and unconditionally release of all the arbitrary detained individuals, particularly children and women, and to reveal the fate of tens of thousands of forcibly disappeared persons.