Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC), Press Release of the 8th Annual Report
The Syrian Human Rights Committee documents unprecedented abuses of Human Rights in Syria and a Regression to very low levels.
In its eight annual report, the Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC) monitored a state of regression in human rights in Syria, outlining that the period which the report covers, January to December 2008, “witnessed unprecedented abuses of human rights in Syria, regressing to the levels that were the norm in the mid – 1980s of the last century”. During the previous year, Supreme State Security Courts were held in camera from July onwards. The world was no longer able to keep track of the great injustices committed by this illegal and unconstitutional court.
This report, which is 54 pages and of a medium size, is the eighth to be issued by SHRC which reports the human rights situation in Syria during the Presidency of Bashar Al-Assad (2000-2008).
Sednaya Prison Massacre:
In this year, the authorities committed a massacre in the biggest prison in Syria under suspicious circumstances. An unknown number of detainees were killed, reminiscent of the massacres perpetrated during the period of terrible oppression. In the morning of 5/7/2008, an additional back-up force arrived at the prison. An intimidating search of the prison quarters ensued, during which copies of the holy Quran were trampled on by guards, which angered several Islamist detainees. It has been reported that 25 detainees were killed, but SHRC has not been able to ascertain their identities.
Some families attempted visiting or asking about their sons, however no visitors have been allowed into the prison since the outbreak of violence. It was reported that the bodies of some detainees were handed over to their families, yet SHRC has not known of anyone released alive from Sednaya Prison since then. Sources have also reported that approximately 127 detainees were liquidated and that several detainees were re-allocated to different prison cells or even transferred to different prisons. The events at Sednaya remain vague, yet it is suspected that a large massacre at a similar scale to that of Tadmur and al- Mezzeh took place.
L aw 49/1980:
The campaign against members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters and families has persisted unabated in accordance with law 49/1980, which sentences them to death. Those persecuted by the law this year were sons of the Muslim Brotherhood members or supporters of the movement who had been forced into exile to escape death or were born into exile, and have no link to the movement except through blood. When some attempted to return to Syria, they were arrested and tortured before being sentenced to death according to law 49. Sentences were commuted to twelve years of hard labour. They were also stripped of all their civil rights. This year, 13 citizens were arrested upon their return to the country, and others unheard of following the Supreme State Security courts decision to hold their sessions in camera.
Tens of thousands of Syrians are still living in forced exile due to escaping persecution and law 49/1980. Many of these families have spread across three generations and are living in very grim conditions, the alternative being returning to Syria and facing detention, trial and law 49/1980. SHRC has warned that life is becoming increasingly difficult for Syrians living in neighbouring countries. Many of those living in Iraq have been persecuted by US and Iraqi forces or died at the hands of sectarian militias simply because they were Syrian. As a result, most have been forced to leave Iraq. Those who had returned to Syria were arrested on arrival and put on trial in accordance with law 49/1980. The families that headed to Yemen are surviving under very hard conditions. All this misery is compounded by the difficulty of attaining residency in any country. The year 2008 witnessed the deportation of a large number of Syrians living in exile in neighbouring countries. Tougher restrictions have made it increasingly difficult for them to obtain residency in those countries. Many have lost their jobs as a result while others are seriously considering leaving but have nowhere to go
A large number of Syrians in exile have not been able to obtain passports for themselves and their family members, especially those who were born in Baghdad, because Syrian embassies have very strict conditions that are almost impossible to meet. The summer vacation introduced a different kind of suffering. Many women and children who could visit Syria were subjected to unprecedented sessions of interrogation. In addition to being stopped at border checks, many were ordered to local security and intelligence offices in their provinces. There, they were subjected to fresh rounds of interrogation to force them to divulge information about a husband, a son or a brother. Some were issued permits to leave the country while others were not.
Syrian authorities are still adamant to ignore the issue of the thousands of detainees who have gone missing, some for as long as three decades. Nearly 17,000 missing Syrian are believed to have been horrifically murdered by the Syrian authorities. Some died in torture chambers, others were killed in cold blood, and some were executed after summary judgments, or perished from disease and epidemics in prison. It is believed that they were buried in mass graves or thrown out with the garbage. The subject of the missing is considered taboo in Syria. Anyone caught discussing it publicly is severely punished including the relatives of those missing. Some families of the missing Syrians are still persecuted to this day. Others are subjected to financial blackmail by members of the intelligence services under the ruse that the missing relative is still alive and a visit could be arranged in return for a certain amount of money.
This year has also witnessed an increase in the authorities’ efforts on cracking down on Islamists from all tendencies under various guises. This is whilst adopting an open door policy to cross – border Shiite ideologies. Syrian authorities have given themselves free rein to arrest, torture, and issue summary judgements against Islamist activists, taking full advantage of the so – called international war on terror. Security agreements with major international powers have authorised Syria to torture and interrogate detainees on their behalf. Syrian intelligence services are notorious for appearing to oppose certain international parties, thus attracting other opposing players, before it emerges that Syrian intelligence services had been laying a trap for them all along as was the case with Iraq and Fateh Al – Islam.
Syrian Authorities have outlawed religious activism. Anyone with religious leanings is subjected to persecution. Islamist detainees are tortured and punished with maximum sentences.
Damascus Declaration and Civil Society Detainees:
In 2008, the Syrian Authorities detained leading members of the Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change (DDNDC). A criminal court sentenced 12 senior members of the Damascus Declaration to two years and 6 months, charging them with spreading false rumours to shake the public mood and weaken nationalist sentiments. On a similar note, Syrian security authorities refused to conform to the Court of Cassation’s decision of 2nd of November 2008 which commuted the sentences of the reformist and writer Michel Kilo and the activist Mahmoud Issa. Kilo and Issa were arrested after putting their signatures on the Beirut – Damascus Declaration
This was accompanied by a ferocious campaign by the Syrian Authorities to tarnish the reputation of those arrested and all the members of the DDNDC through state – controlled media and dishonest individuals known for their links with security apparatuses. In addition, Syrian Authorities intensified their campaign against civil society and human rights activists, arresting or rearresting scores in a move aimed at crushing civil and human rights. All these arrests are arbitrary as they are conducted without legal warrants or any form of organising principles.
Furthermore, the Syrian government has continued the practice of holding family members hostage to pressure relatives to turn themselves in or abstain from opposing the Syrian regime. Another method of targeting activists and opponents of the regime has been through banning them from travelling. The number of citizens banned from travelling has reached the thousands, and it has become the norm for the various security and intelligence departments to ban individuals from travelling in response to their political activism, falsified reports, blood relations to detainees, or after being stripped of their civil rights following long periods of detention
On a different note, the Syrian Authorities have persisted in detaining and hiding hundreds of Arabs from neighbouring countries such as Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. The issue of Arab detainees in Syria still has not been addressed as authorities rarely acknowledge their presence in Syrian prisons. Lebanon, for example, has repeatedly called upon the Syrian government to disclose the fate of 650 detainees believed to have disappeared in Syrian prisons during the 1980s and 1990s of the last century, whilst the Syrian Authorities finally admitted that 46 Lebanese nationals have been held in various Syrian security departments. The national Committee for the Defence of Jordanian Detainees has revealed that more than 250 Jordanian nationals are held in Syria, however the Syrian Authorities have refused to disclose the real number. With regards to Palestinians, they are part of the Syrian society and are targeted in the same manner as that of Syrian citizens. News break every now and then about the arrest of Saudi nationals while on visit to Syria on charges of belonging to the Salafi Movement which is described by the Syrian authorities as “Wahhabi, Takfiri and extremist.” Sometimes they are arrested for the purpose of blackmailing them for certain sums of money. It has also become a habit of the Syrian Security to arrest Ahwazi opposition members and hand them over to Iran despite their UN status as political refugees.
This year saw an increase in the targeting of Kurdish activists who were tried before unjust courts. In the last quarter of the year, authorities issued decree 49/2008 which sets forth the uses and rights of ownership of lands near the Syrian borders. Kurds were the group most affected by the new decree.
Kurdish activists are usually arrested and accused of belonging to a secret organisation suspected of plotting to carve out part of Syria and annex it to a foreign country or cause disturbances and sow the seeds of discord
Torture in Syrian Prisons:
Torture in prisons, detaining centres and interrogation rooms has become a rampant and routine practice especially during the first few weeks of arrest. Various forms of abuse continue unchecked throughout the period of incarceration. There have been strong indications of the reinstatement of liquidation by torture or execution, especially if the detainee was an Islamist or Kurdish. SHRC has documented several cases of death by torture, including Yasser Al-Saqqah, Ahmed Ramadan, Abdulallah Al-Bitar, a citizen from the Sinno family, Ahmed Moussa Al-Shaqeefi, and Palestinian detainee Jameel Abdullah Al-Hanaisheh. In addition, SHRC has also revealed the names of some of the victims of the Sednaya Massacre, including: Zakariya Affash, Mohammed Mahareesh, Abdulbaqi Khattab, Ahmed Shalaq, Khalid Bilal, Mo’aid Al – Ali, Mohannad Al – Omar and Khader Alloush and others. The body of the Jordanian detainee in Sednaya Prison, Jameel Abdullah Abu – Shihada, was handed over to his family. It is unknown whether he died in the massacre or as a result of torture.
Syrian authorities have persisted in their policy of opening fire on citizens for the most trivial of reasons, including: firing at a group of Kurds celebrating Newroz in al – Qamishli and of whom three were killed (Mohammed Zaki, Ahmed Mohammed Hussein and Mohammed Yihia Khaleel) and five injured. A soldier in the army, Idris Mousa, was killed on the 4th of March 2008 during compulsory military training under suspicious circumstances. The body of Kurdish citizen and soldier Shiar Yousef Ali was handed to his family after he was also killed under suspicious circumstances. Kurdish sources also revealed that another youth from Aynul – Arab was killed alongside Ali. Mohammed Khalil Omran, a member of the military police, was also executed on the field by his superior officer from the Dumar Military Police Project. Human rights activist Sami Ma’touq and his friend Johnny Suleiman died on the 14th of October 2008 when a security patrol opened fire on them killing them both in front of Ma’touq’s house.
The Intelligence elements violent tendencies have been made even bolder by laws which protect them from accountability and trial, due to a presidential decree which restricts members of the police force, political security branch and border customs accused of torturing prisoners can only be prosecuted by General Headquarters of Army and Armed Forces despite the fact that they are legally accountable to the ministry of interior.
Targeting Civil Society Institutes:
Whilst the ministry of Labour and social affairs has maintained its policy of not granting licenses to establish human rights organizations, many of whom have been waiting for a license for several years, the Syrian Authorities have paralyzed many independent civil society institutions which are successful in their work, including sport clubs and social and charitable societies. The authorities have dissolved elected boards of directors and appointed new ones in their place. These unconstitutional and illegal acts have been spearheaded by the Minister of Awqaf, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and several security agencies
Following the AL-Karama football club’s success both regionally and internationally due to the outcome of years of hard work by the club’s manager and coach, Mohammad Owayed, and dedicated fans, the Syrian authorities decided unexpectedly to change the club’s board of directors and pressure many players, including the coach, to leave the club.
The ministry of Awqaf also took over independent religious institutions, issuing a decree that all donations should be made directly to the ministry. Some donors received threats from security agencies. The ministry of Awqaf is currently running a campaign to ban collecting donations to build new mosques.
Press, Media and the Internet:
The list of banned websites (news, human rights, religious, social etc) in Syria has grown exponentially, that it has even extended to websites published by members close to the Syrian regime. The Syrian authorities placed restrictions in all possible directions: Internet cafes are ordered to keep a record of all their customers’ personal details, the intelligence have undertook intense internet surveillance activity, and many bloggers were arrested on charges of spreading lies to weaken the nation and nationalist sentiments. Audio, visual and written media remain under the direct control of the regime.
Reporters without Borders’ annual Index of Press Freedom placed Syria in the 159th position on its list of 173 countries for the year 2008.
Or visit SHRC website: www.shrc.org