Through the darkness of Damascus Central Prison, known as “Adra Prison,” a group of men, some of whom are army officers, enter one of the suites. There they start calling the names of prisoners.
Abdul Azeez was one of them. He spent half the detention period in the Harasta branch of the “Air Force Intelligence,” where he was detained for six months for participating in a demonstration in the town of Arbin in rural Damascus in 2011. As for the other half, he was transferred to Sednaya Prison after he was charged with “carrying out terrorist acts, enticing these acts and dealing with tendentious television channels.”
Abdel Azeez says: “I spent a whole year in Sednaya Prison. Back then, I was detained in the terrorism court in front of the investigative judge. “Even though many requests for immediate release were applied, the judge refused all of them.”
Nonetheless, the situation differed when he was transferred to Adra Prison, which is, ironically enough, a “five stars” prison if compared to other places. When the investigative judge in the terrorism court referred me to Adra Prison, upon changing my crime from terrorism to felony, every month, a group of officers started to enter the prison’s suites, one suite after another; they introduced themselves as delegates from the Ministry of National Reconciliation. They offered us an immediate release in return for joining and fighting for the Syrian regime’s army,” he added.
Some prisoners deem this offer as a salvation, a means to survive the walls of the prison, especially those charged with crimes under the Assizes Court, for most of them await a long sentence, some of which might end up as a death sentence.
Abdel Azeez, who is now fighting for the eastern Ghouta factions, after spending four years in the “Adra Prison” and being released on trial, did not accept the deal proposed by the delegates of the Ministry of Reconciliation, though some people accepted it. He believes that “to fight and be killed while fighting the regime’s forces is better than killing innocent people.”
The Destiny of the Released Detainees and the Paid Price
Every now and then, the Syrian regime announces the release of a number of detainees, under what it calls “promoting national reconciliation.” However, what is the destiny of these released detainees and what price have they paid?
Raed Salhani, a media personality, says: “Informed sources of the reconciliation affairs are reporting the presence of these committees which offer detainees, required to perform mandatory and reserve services, a release in return for a reconciliation that includes volunteering in the regime’s army. Nevertheless, this offer is limited to prisoners detained due to felonies or economic crimes. The reconciliation excludes political prisoners and detainees charged with terrorism crimes.”
The regime resorted to the reconciliation procedure because the numbers of its soldiers have been decreasing since the break out of the revolution; most of the young men, who are at the age of recruitment are not joining the military service, others have migrated, and many others are studying and deferring the service.
Detainees have other justifications to defer the military service. Lawyer Yasser al-Sayed, a specialist in military cases, explains the means through which detainees can have a deferment under the law.
The 2007 version of the law, under Article 30, explains the conditions upon which people required to perform military service can get a deferment. In addition to deferment due to studying and travelling, the most common justifications, there is another case decreed in the law under Article 11- sentenced prisoners for the duration of the penalty or reman prisoners for the duration of detention.
Deals Conducted upon Exchanging Prisoners
About the reconciliation committee’s offers, the lawyer Yasser al-Sayed told Enab Baladi: “I have never heard of a such committee before; it does not even have a legal deed. Despite the different violations committed by the regime, it is protecting itself with specific laws. So, it is certain that the issued pardon includes some of the atrocities, whose committers usually tend to join the regime’s militias.”
According to the lawyer, what really matters is the occurrences accompanying “prisoners’ exchange” operations. He added: “I know many people who have been detained on charges of felonies, such as criminal forgery and counterfeiting currency. These have been released due to exchange operations with the rebels. To achieve this, an officer enlists their names in the lists containing the names of detainees to be released in the exchange. All this is done in return for money paid by offenders’ families to the officers.”
Faking Enrollment Only to Dissent Again
After graduation from the Faculty of Law, Yousif was performing military service and joined the revolution by participating in the demonstrations that took over the streets of his city, Duma, every Friday.
He dissented from Assad’s forces after the formation of the “Free Army” and became a military leader.
Yousif says: “It was the regime who forced us to use arms after he started killing demonstrators.”
Yousif fought for the “Free Army” in Duma until 2016. Due to safety issues, he tried to leave for northern Syria, but he was ambushed and arrested in the city of Salamiyah.
Yousif unfolds the details of his journey through security branches while proud that the journey was not that long, attributing this to the massive sum of money he paid to the Chief of the Branch, where he was kept. He paid the money to be brought in front of the judges so fast.
“Indeed, I was arrested for one week only. After being brought in front of the judge and transferred to Adra prison, a committee called the Reconciliation Committee came and offered us a release in return for enrollment in the Assad’s forces. I accepted their offer desiring to get out of the prison,” he added.
However, Yousif had another plan on mind, a plan never reckoned by the Committee. After joining Assad’s forces, in a military regiment close to Hama, he escaped to join the opposition faction’s in Idlib in Northern Syria, to implement his somehow delayed goal.
Shortage of Fighters Forces Regime to Call Up Reserve
The Syrian regime is suffering from a shortage in the numbers of soldiers, especially when Russia decreased the numbers of its fighters in Syria and limited their presence to the military bases, the most important of which is Hmeimim, in Tartus governorate.
Seven years after the break out of the Syrian conflict, which drained Assad’s forces humanitarian resources, the regime started conducting campaigns to recruit reserve forces to bridge the gap by circulating the names at the checkpoints.
Young men, who are still in Syria and who have not yet exceeded the age of 45, are haunted by the reserve military service ghost. While in prison, Yousif observed this. He says: “We had young people who preferred to go to prison rather than being recruited for the reserve military service, for their death is certain then.”
A young man’s wife, who preferred not to mention her name, said that my husband refused to leave Syria though we insisted for we were afraid of him being recruited for reserve military service. However, he refused to travel not wanting to live us alone. When one of our neighbors told him that his name was added to the reserve lists, he was forced to travel. He was smuggled scared that his name would be circulated at the checkpoints.
Every now and then rumours spread, saying that the reserve military service’s age has been elevated forming a source of terror for young people who are mostly breadwinners. However, the Director of the Recruitment Station negated this. After the many losses befalling Assad’s forces on a number of fronts, such as the battle of “Abu al-Duhur Military Airbas” in Idlib and the battle of the “Vehicles Management Base” in eastern Damascus, the lurking fear of conducting new recruitment campaigns, in the areas witnessing reconciliations and settlement agreements, reappeared on the surface.