At Least 20,842 Individuals Are Still Detained or Forcibly Disappeared by the Syrian Regime Due to Kinship with Participants in the Popular Uprising against the Syrian Regime
(Link below to download full report)
In a report issued today, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has condemned the Syrian regime’s arrest of activist Abdul Rahman al Saleh’s relatives solely over his expressing his opinion on Al Jazeera’s ‘Opposite Direction’ Programme, adding that at least 20,842 individuals are still detained or forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime due to kinship with participants in the popular uprising against the Syrian regime.
The 13-page report reveals that family members of Abdul Rahman Al-Saleh, a political activist and Syrian National Bloc member, a defected sergeant from the Syrian regime’s forces and a refugee in Germany since 2014, were arrested due to his expressing his opinion in an episode of Al Jazeera’s weekly ‘Opposite Direction’ current affairs debate programme, two days after the episode was broadcast on December 2020. Al-Saleh’s family members were arrested solely because, during his participation in the TV programme, he had criticized the deteriorating living conditions in areas of Syria under the Syrian regime’s control, as well as accusing the regime of corruption and of using the assets and resources of the Syrian state to preserve the rule of the Assad family, no matter what suffering this causes to Syrian citizens.
The report notes that as is the norm with the vast majority of arrests carried out by regime security and army personnel in raids or at checkpoints, al Saleh’s relatives were detained without justification and with no judicial warrant being presented. The report also stresses that it is almost impossible for the regime-controlled judiciary to intervene in any way on behalf of detainees or to play any role in challenging the arrests and torture carried out by the regime’s security services, which are deemed to be more important to the Syrian regime than the judiciary and which thus have the highest level of authority, exceeding that of all ministries or other state bodies, including the Ministries of Justice and Interior.
As the report reveals, at least 20,842 of the individuals arrested by the Syrian regime since March 2011, including 13 children and 27 women, are still detained or forcibly disappeared in regime detention centers over their kinship with participants in the popular uprising against the Syrian regime, as of December 21, 2020. These constitute approximately 15% of the total documented number of those detained or forcibly disappeared by Syrian Regime forces. Among the detainees in this category are at least 7,926 individuals, including 147 children and 179 women, who were later released.
The report presents charts showing the distribution of the record of those arrested or forcibly disappeared by Syrian Regime forces over their kinship to participants in the popular uprising across the Syrian governorates, and by years since March 2011 until December 21, 2020, as the year 2012 witnessed the highest wave of these arrests, followed by 2013 and 2011.
The report also includes a chart showing the distribution of the record of detainees and forcibly disappeared persons according to age groups, which shows the diversity of the age groups of individuals who have been targeted for arrests or enforced disappearances due to kinship with activists in the popular uprising, dissidents and opponents of the Syrian regime, or defectors from it. The report adds that even children, adolescents and the elderly are not excluded from these operations by the Syrian regime’s forces; on the contrary, members of these vulnerable groups are deliberately arrested in order to inflict the greatest possible harm on the wanted persons’ families.
As the report notes, nearly 50% of all the arrests carried out due to detainees’ kinship with individuals wanted by Syrian Regime forces have targeted relatives and families of civilian activists, with nearly 44% of these arrests targeting relatives and families of individuals who defected from regime forces.
As the report documents, at least 13 individuals died due to torture and medical negligence in the Syrian regime’s detention centers between March 2011 and December 21, 2020, all of whom had been arrested due to their kinship with activists in the popular uprising or opponents of the Syrian regime. The bodies of these victims were not handed over to their families, and accordingly, they are still classified as being among those forcibly disappeared.
The report provides background on the lack of freedom of opinion and expression in light of the absolute encroachment by the Syrian regime’s security services on every aspect of citizens’ daily lives, noting that over the past ten years (though a large part of this also applies to the Syrian regime’s practices pre-2011), the Syrian regime has introduced laws, and built a brutal system of exceptional / security / political courts based on these, whose objective is rationalizing and legitimizing the liquidation of dissidents and political opponents, through the use of deliberately vaguely phrased legislation that can be subject to various interpretations, with the report including examples of these interpretations, adding that these laws are more accurately described as security articles since they violate the spirit of the law.
The report notes that the vast majority of laws issued by the Syrian regime (through decrees, or via the People’s Assembly which is wholly subservient to the regime) explicitly contradict international human rights law, and frighteningly restrict freedom of opinion and expression, further revealing that the constitution issued unilaterally by the Syrian regime in 2012 contains clauses which directly contradict each other.
The report further stresses that enforced disappearance is still the prevailing pattern in Syria, with less than a third of the detainees held without charge being referred to the exceptional courts even after years of detention.
The report concludes by noting that the Syrian regime has failed to fulfill any of its obligations under any of the international treaties and conventions which it has ratified, specifically the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The regime has also violated several articles of the Syrian Constitution itself, with thousands of detainees imprisoned without any arrest warrant, held for many years without charges, and prevented from appointing a lawyer and from receiving family visits. 65.08 percent of all detentions documented have subsequently been categorized as cases of enforced disappearance, with detainees’ families being denied any information on their loved ones’ whereabouts by the security services and authorities, while anyone making inquiries about the detainees faces the risk of being arrested themselves for doing so.
The report also emphasizes that the Syrian regime continues to flagrantly violate all Syrian citizens’ right to freedom of opinion and expression stipulated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in addition to violating many of the basic and fundamental rights of Syrian citizens, most notably freedom of opinion and expression, and imposing exceptionally violent and authoritarian punishments in order to eliminate freedom of opinion and expression, which the regime views as exposing its practices before the people and threatening its absolute authority. An example of this can clearly be seen in the arrest of Abdul Rahman al Saleh’s family members solely in retaliation for his expressing his opinion on Al Jazeera channel.
The report affirms that there is no legitimacy to any of the constitutional or legal texts issued by the dictatorial regime and its brutal security services in Syria, which should be classified as mafiosi operating outside the law and receiving their orders directly from the Presidency of the Republic, and which have been involved in thousands of violations against the Syrian people since 2011. The report additionally notes that the Syrian regime has pursued a strategy of arresting, torturing and disappearing the families of persons active in the popular uprising in a widespread and deliberate manner, in order to deter and punish these individuals for their activism against the regime, and to terrorize other segments of society, silencing any expression of dissent or similar actions for fear of what might befall their family members.
The report recommends that the UN Security Council should monitor 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, which demand the immediate cessation of the crime of enforced disappearance, must demand the immediate release of nearly 21,000 Syrian citizens who have been detained or forcibly disappeared due to the participation of their relatives in the popular uprising against the Syrian regime, and must accelerate the implementation of the political transition towards a democratic government that respects human rights in Syria, because every delay means more encroachment and brutality by the Syrian regime and its security services over the most basic rights of the Syrian citizen.
The report further asserts that the Russian regime must demand that its ally, the Syrian regime, release the Syrian citizens currently unjustly detained in this way, who number at least 21,000, stop threatening and persecuting activists’ families, and stop supporting the factional system in Syria, in view of its lack of any credibility in the eyes of the Syrian people and the international community, and its steady progression towards further decline and absolute contempt for human rights in a way unimaginable in the modern world.