Children Are Tried for “Terrorism” in Damascus
Amidst the crowds at the door of an examining magistrate, a strong voice could be heard; it ordered the people to step aside in the narrow corridor where they waited. The voice belonged to the police patrol that brought in a group of detainees of “Damascus Central Prison,” known as Adra Prison.
The Patrol’s members got them in while they dragged the chains that coiled around their little legs and their hands. They walked, slowly, affected by the heaviness of the iron and many years of detention. However, they did not hide the dry smile on their faces.
“Hassan’s mother” believes that her son is one of them, or that what the lawyer told her. She stood there observing them, one by one. Suddenly, she rushes towards one of the detainees, shouting with a full throat, “my son.” The police officer pushed her away and ordered her not to come any closer while the lawyer reassured her that everything is going to be okay.
Hassan’s lawyer, who wished to keep his name hidden, said that “my client is a juvenile. He is only 16 years old, so his sentence will be reduced.”
“Previously, juvenile detainees used to be treated in the same manner as adults. However, recently the tenth examining magistrate started to study the terrorism cases committed by juveniles,” he added.
“Hassan’s mother” spoke of her suffering after her son Hassan has disappeared. “On Mothers’ Day, a year and a half ago, Hassan went to buy a cake, but he did not return,” she said. After that, the search journey began, and the family started to resort “to connections.”
A new chapter was added to the mother’s book of pain, the mother who with her children was displaced from Damascus’ countryside at the beginning of the revolution after her husband was killed by a sniper’s bullet while heading to work.
Who Are the Juveniles? How Many of Them Are in Prisons?
According to the Syrian Juvenile Offenders Act, “juvenile” refers to people below the age of 18.
The offenders’ young age is usually considered a reason to lessen the sentence or the penalty, for Article 29 of the Syrian Juvenile Act provides for the mitigation of the sanction if the offender is a juvenile who has attained the age of 15; accordingly, he or she is punished with six to 12 years in prison instead of execution. The sanction might also vary between rigorous imprisonment for five to 10 years instead of rigorous imprisonment for life or a year to five years in prison instead of temporary rigorous imprisonment or confinement.
Juvenile offenders are placed in a juvenile reform institution.
The Ministry of Social Affairs, on December 20, mentioned that there are 1060 minors in the juvenile reform institutes in Damascus and its countryside, indicating that the number is less than it used to be.
In a statement, the Ministry added that more than half of this number are penalized for committing robberies and that 25% of them have committed brawls, killings and bearing arms, in addition to 15% who are drug offenders.
The Ministry’s statements, however, do not present the whole truth, for many of the detained children’s parents, who have been arrested for political offenses, or for belonging to families that are known as anti-regime, or for regional basis for their descent from “burning” cities, try to change the charges against their children from terrorism to criminal charges to get them light sentences. The parents are actually paying lawyers huge amounts of money to do so.
They Are Not Always Considered “Criminal Charges”
Hassan’s lawyer confirmed this and mentioned children, whom he presented in the court in defense for criminal accusations, despite the fact that they were arrested at the checkpoints and taken to unknown place.
Hassan’s mother adds to the lawyer’s comment saying that her son was not yet 15 when he disappeared. “He might have been lucky because he was turned to the court after one and half a year after being detained in a security branch, unlike his peers who are still absent in the branches and whose parents have no idea about them,” she said.
Hassan’s mother mentions another woman who sat on one of the court’s seats, “this poor woman comes to the court every day hoping to see the face of her son among the detainees being brought for investigation.”
The Daily Search for Sons
“Aum Mohammad” is a woman in her fifties; she was displaced with her husband and children from Damascus’ countryside. After she managed to rent a modest house to live there with her family, her son Mahmoud, the youngest of his siblings, started to complete studying. A patrol arrested him at a checkpoint in Kafarsoush neighbourhood, according to Mahmoud’s friend who was joining him on the way back from school. To this day, Aum Mohammad knows nothing about her son’s place.
“Aum Muhammad” is one of many mothers who go to the courts to check for their children. “We asked a lot to no avail. Some people proposed to search for him in return for huge amounts of money, provided that payment is made in advance; however, this choice was beyond thought for most of these people are brokers only,” she said.
With the frozen files of their sons, many mothers started to lose hope that their children are still alive, especially that thousands of photos have been leaked of prisoners who died due to torture.
A Legal Expert: Special Treatment for Juveniles
In an interview with Enab Baladi, the lawyer Rasha Shahbaz, from Damascus’ branch, said that a decree has been issued, under the number 290 in 2016, based on the High Justice Council’s proposal, through which amendments and movements have been made in the Terrorism Court. According to these modifications and the ninth Article in the decree, a court ordained for juveniles within the Terrorism Court has been created after they were tried by the examining magistrate just like other detainees.
The lawyer Rasha adds that the Terrorism Court, before the decree, did not consider the young age of the detainees that is why the tenth examining magistrate have been assigned to study the juveniles’ cases. If the case is considered a criminal one, the juvenile is sent to the Juveniles Court in the Palace of Justice in Damascus.
As for the juveniles’ cases which have been observed in the Terrorism Courts, before the decree, the judge usually transfers them to the Juveniles Court and forgets about them.
The Ministry of Justice has established a special committee for the missing persons, in mid-December, to help families in their search for their children. Nevertheless, this procedure was not welcomed by citizens who considered it a waste of time, which would not lead to any results since the files are placed in the hands of the security authorities, not the judiciary ones.
The families of detainees had a similar experience when the Ministry of Justice established an office for the Disappeared People Affairs. The employees in the office registered the names of the disappeared only and did not take further steps to look for them. Tragically enough, the only information that families used to get after registering the names was that the person they are looking for is “dead”.