Detainees, Activists, and Prisoners of Conscience Should Be Released as a Precaution for Fear of Being Infected with the Coronavirus
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in its report released today that the Hurras al Din (Guardians of Religion) group is responsible for kidnapping and forcibly disappearing six activists working for relief organizations in Idlib, with SNHR urging the release of the detainees, the activists, and the prisoners of conscience as a precaution for fear of their being infected with the coronavirus.
The five-page report outlines the history of the establishment of the Hurras al Din group in February 2018, with the terror group’s leaders founding it after their defection from the al Nusra Front group. The report notes that the Hurras al Din group controls four secret detention centers containing approximately 113 detainees.
The report relies on the accounts of a number of former detainees who were released by the Hurras al Din group after being detained in its detention centers, noting that the group often does not claim responsibility for the kidnappings or detentions it carries out in order to avoid unnecessary antagonism with local communities.
The report notes that the Hurras al Din group considers itself to be one of the branches of al Qaeda and gives its allegiance to the terror group’s leader Ayman al Zawahiri. The group, which is controlled by jihadists from various nations around the world, primarily Jordan and Tunisia, is not considered to possess any independent military capacity and strength; therefore, it often resorts to alliances with other extremist groups, including Jamaat Ansar al Tawhid, Jabhat Ansar al Din and others, when carrying out military attacks on areas outside its control. The report also notes that the Hurras al Din group lacks any real central leadership, with each of its subordinate groups managing its own affairs and planning and carrying out kidnappings or killings, according to whatever each group perceives as useful at a given moment in achieving its objectives.
Since the beginning of 2020, the report has documented at least eight kidnappings targeting local activists working mainly in humanitarian organizations and charities in Idlib governorate; six of these individuals were detained by Hurras al Din group, as part of its policy of repression, restriction, and terrorizing of civil society organizations operating in Idlib governorate, and to take advantage of the current chaotic conditions in the northwest areas of Syria to carry out security operations.
The report further explains that Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, after seizing control over large areas of Idlib governorate, is responsible for the significant decline in the support of countries and international organizations for local organizations working in the relief field, with hundreds of their employees being affected; this has also added to the burden on their families. The report accuses HTS of exploiting the presence of another extremist faction such as Hurras al Din to present itself as a more local faction, but as the report notes HTS has played no significant role in local affairs or assisted the local community in any way as it attempts to claim. As the report states, SNHR learnt from a number of detainees’ families with whom it communicated that they had contacted the HTS security apparatus following their loved ones’ disappearance and provided data about the kidnappers to help in their rescue, emphasizing that some of the kidnappings took place in areas where HTS maintains checkpoints and military roadblocks; despite this, HTS has taken no action over these incidents to date.
The report stresses that abductions, enforced disappearances, and restrictions on local communities’ freedoms carried out by extremist Islamist groups, including Hurras al Din group (the Guardians of Religion) have resulted in many more activists and their families being displaced and fleeing to other areas outside these groups’ control for fear of arrest and an unknown fate.
The report accuses the Hurras al Din group of committing widespread violations of international human rights law against the people in the areas under its control through kidnappings, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and unfair rulings issued by courts that in no way comply with the basic rules of fair trials.
The report calls on the international community and the Security Council to accelerate the political transition process towards democracy in Syria to expedite the process of ending extremist groups which live on wars and conflicts.
As the report states, the failure of the international community and the Security Council to deter the Syrian regime from committing crimes against humanity, which allow it to act with total impunity, is a historic and gross injustice that enables extremist groups to find support and to gain traction for their extremist doctrine in recruiting members of Syrian society, with the report calling for allocating resources and creating plans to try to attract and dissuade those who joined extremist groups through financial inducements, appeals to morality and reasoning, and raising awareness.