Hay’at Tahrir al Sham’s Salvation Government Detains Many Syrian Citizens Simply for Expressing Their Opinion
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SNHR announced in its report released today that it documented at least 154 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detention in Syria in October 2020, including five children and three women, noting that Hay’at Tahrir al Sham’s Salvation Government detains many Syrian citizens simply for expressing their opinion.
The report stresses that Syrian Regime forces in October continued to persecute Syrian citizens in connection with their political opposition and opinions, which are guaranteed by the constitution and international law, with persecutions and arbitrary arrests affecting a number of Syrian citizens solely because they criticized the deteriorating living and economic conditions in the regime-controlled areas; among those arrested during this period have been government employees who were detained by Syrian Regime forces in raids on their homes and workplaces. The report also documents arrests and persecutions against citizens, including activists, in connection with their participation in anti-Syrian regime protests and activities in Suwayda governorate previously, with most of these arrests taking place while they were passing through regime checkpoints in Suwayda city.
Syrian Regime forces in October continued to persecute and arrest individuals who have concluded settlements of their security status with the Syrian regime in areas that previously concluded settlement agreements with the regime; these arrests have been concentrated in Daraa and Damascus Suburbs governorates, with most occurring during campaigns of mass raids and arrests.
The report notes that it has recorded arrests of Syrian citizens by Syrian Regime forces while they were traveling from areas under the Syrian regime’s control to other areas.
In the context of cases in which individuals have been released, the report records in October that Syrian Regime forces released 11 detainees from various Syrian governorates, all of whom were released from regime detention centers in Damascus governorate. Most of these individuals were released after the end of their arbitrary sentences, with the duration of their detention ranging from four to eight years.
As the report reveals, Syrian Democratic Forces continued enforcing the group’s policies of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance throughout the month of October, targeting civilians who have kinship relationships with individuals in the Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army. Syrian Democratic Forces also carried out campaigns of mass raids and arrests, targeting many civilians, including children, on the pretext of fighting ISIS cells. These arrests were concentrated in Deir Ez-Zour governorate. Also in October, SNHR documented Syrian Democratic Forces carrying out arrests/ detention targeting several families, as well as targeting several members of the same families, including elderly people, without providing clear charges, taking these detained to an undisclosed location. The report also documents in October Syrian Democratic Forces’ abduction of children with the aim of taking them to its training and recruitment camps and forcibly conscripting them. Syrian Democratic Forces have prevented the children’s families from communicating with them, and did not disclose their fate.
As for Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, the report stresses that October also saw Hay’at Tahrir al Sham arresting civilians, with arrests concentrating in Idlib city, including activists working with civil society groups, media workers, lawyers, and clergymen, with most of these arrests occurring due to expressing their opinions criticizing the HTS’s management of areas under its control. These arrests were carried out through issued by the Public Prosecution service of the Salvation Government, which is affiliated with Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, and took place arbitrarily in the form of raids in which HTS members stormed their victims’ homes, often breaking down the doors, or by kidnapping their victims while they were travelling or passing through temporary checkpoints.
The Armed Opposition/ the Syrian National Army also carried out arbitrary arrests and kidnappings in October, most of which occurred on a mass scale, in many cases targeting several members of the same families, including elderly people; we also recorded detentions carried out under an ethnic pretext, with these incidents being concentrated in areas under their 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, as well as being carried out without presenting any clear charges against those being detained.
The 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. The 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/ detention it recorded in October 2020 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 in September, 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 were subsequently categorized as enforced disappearances. A number of criteria must be met before SNHR will classify a case as an enforced disappearance: the individual must have been detained for at least 20 days without his or her family being able to obtain any information from the relevant authorities about their status or location, with those responsible for the disappearance denying any knowledge of the individual’s arrest or whereabouts.
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 documents at least 154 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detention in October 2020, including five children and three women, 111 of which have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance, all at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, with 73 of these, including two children and two women, carried out at the hands of Syrian Regime forces, 56 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance. It also documents 44 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detention at the hands of Syrian Democratic Forces, including three children, 31 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance.
The report also documents 21 cases of arbitrary arrests/ detention, including one woman, at the hands of the Armed Opposition and Syrian National Army, 16 of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance. In addition, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham arrested 16 individuals, eight of whom have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance.
The report also shows the distribution of cases of arbitrary arrests in October by governorate, with Deir Ez-Zour seeing the largest number of arrests documented during this period, followed by the governorates of, Aleppo then Daraa.
The report notes that the Syrian regime has issued nearly 17 amnesty decrees, the last of which was in March 2020, and many of which were similar to one another and focused on securing the release of perpetrators of crimes, felonies and offences, while including only a very small number of detainees referred to exceptional courts such as the Counter-Terrorism Court and the military field courts, and excluding the largest proportion of detainees who were not subjected to any trial during the years of their detention, who have been classified as forcibly disappeared.
The report further notes that detainees held by Syrian Regime forces are subjected to exceptionally brutal and sadistic methods of torture, and subjected to unimaginably squalid, unsanitary and massively overcrowded conditions in its detention centers without even the bare minimum of hygiene or sanitation to protect against illness and disease. The report also notes that these brutal conditions being a very deliberate and widespread strategy on the part of the Syrian regime with the aim of debasing and torturing detainees. Subjecting detainees to conditions that foster disease and infection and leaving them to suffer without medical help or treatment is another deliberate and conscious part of this strategy, forcing already physically and emotionally traumatized detainees to endure an additional layer of torment and debasement often leading to death. The report warns of the increasing danger facing prisoners in regime detention centers with the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in light of the brutal detention conditions that are favorable for the spread of infectious diseases such as the COVID-19 coronavirus; this now threatens the lives of approximately 130,000 people who are still documented as being detained or forcibly disappeared by Syrian Regime forces, according to the SNHR database.
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 resolutions of the UN Security Council, 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, article 12, which states that all detainees, especially women and children, must be released immediately. Despite all these resolutions and other official statements, no progress has been made on the issue of securing the release of detainees in any of the rounds of negotiations sponsored by international parties regarding the conflict in Syria. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been unable to conduct any periodic visits to any of these detention centers, constituting a violation of International Humanitarian Law.
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. 65 percent of all detentions documented have subsequently been categorized as enforced disappearance cases, with detainees’ families being denied any information on their loved ones’ whereabouts, while anyone making enquiries about the detainees faces the risk of being arrested themselves for doing so.
The report notes that the other parties (Syrian Democratic Forces, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham and the Armed Opposition/ The Syrian National Army) are 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, adopted on April 14, 2012, Resolution 2043, adopted on April 21, 2012, and Resolution 2139, adopted on February 22, 2014, all of which demand the immediate cessation of the crime of enforced disappearance.
The report provides a set of recommendations to the Human Rights Council, to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI), and to the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (IIIM).
The report calls on the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces to immediately end arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances, to reveal the fate of all arrested/ detained and forcibly disappeared persons, to allow their families to visit them, and to hand over the bodies of detainees who were killed as a result of torture to their families.
The report also calls on them to unconditionally release all detainees who have been imprisoned merely for exercising their political and civil rights and to publish a register containing the detainees’ data together with the reasons for their detention, the locations where they are held, and the sentences issued.
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 99,000 missing persons in Syria, approximately 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 human rights groups 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 should not be taken as prisoners of war. The report calls on the official newly appointed to take charge of the detainees’ file at the UN special envoy’s office to include the issue of detainees at the upcoming rounds of Geneva talks, as this issue is of far greater importance to the Syrian people than other longer-term issues that can be jointly addressed later, such as the constitution.