In the Grip of the Regime: Administrative and Judicial Decentralization in Syria

The Consular Office in Sweida- September 21, 2018 (The Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

The Consular Office in Sweida- September 21, 2018 (The Ministry of Foreign Affairs)


A handful of slogans were spread by the Syrian regime about the activation of administrative decentralization, in sync with the latest elections of local administration, which for the first time adopted Decree No.99 for 2011, which is a modification of the Local Administration’s Law.

According to the official narrative, Decree No.99 for 2011 enhances the administrative decentralization in Syria, while legal professionals believe that the final decision is that of the central authority’s, the political decision in particular.

The official media is addressing the changes in the two ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs, which allow for starting with the implementation of decentralization, though the two ministries are a part and a parcel of the Centralized Administration, in the fist of which lie decisions. This decision took the shape of the creation of new local courts and Consular offices in several governorates.


Terrorism Court, No Justice

In April 2011, the Syrian regime abolished the emergency state and cancelled the “National Security” court, which was many people’s nightmare. However, it replaced them with the “Terrorism Court” it found in 2012, which legal professionals describe as a new “security Branch.”

Seven years after all that the Syrian areas has witnessed, including the arrest of thousands of people, some of whom died under torture, others who are forcibly disappeared, a little portion, the luckiest we can say, are standing in trial before the Terrorism Court on various charges, with a single common fracture, participation in activities demanding freedom. Nonetheless, the accusations directed at them range between incitement of acts of violence and planning terrorist attacks.

This applies to Abdelhamid, held at the Sweida prison since 2013. He is a man from rural Damascus, and the reason which led to his current situation is that he has been detained by one of the checkpoints on the way between Damascus and Sweida, while he was driving a group of people, some of whom were wanted for security branches. He was arrested with them.

As if his suffering during the detention period and the torture he received in different security branches were not enough, he was sent to the Sweida prison, banished away from his relatives, who were forced to leave their home to a far place, in addition to the idea that visiting him places them at a larger risk, for they pass through several Assad’s forces’ checkpoints, which feed them up with investigations, as their identity documents show that they come from one of the revolutionary areas in rural Damascus.

The only way left for Abdelhamid’s family to see their son was at the “Terrorism Court,” during trials. Though, the detainee was not allowed to speak to anyone during the hearings, some signs and gestures, from afar, were enough to reassure his mother.

The family attempted to transfer Abdelhamid to Damascus Central Prison (Adra), but they failed, especially since the Damascus Prison hosts detainees from other governorates, which coerces their relatives to go for long distances as to pay them a visit.

Instead of transferring each of the detainees to a prison in the area where he/she belongs, so they would stand trails before the judiciary board of a court affiliated with their areas of residence, the government of the Syrian regime sought to apply what it refer to as “Administrative Decentralization,” according to the Syrian Arab News Agency “SANA,” which quoted the Minster of Justice under the government of the Syrian regime, Hisham al-Shaar, as saying that a study being conducted as to establish another terrorism court in Aleppo or Homs.

In Mid-April, al-Shaar announced that soon a second terrorism court will be established.

According to “SANA,” al-Shaar’s statement came as a part of his answer to the People’s Council, where a few members demanded that “Terrorism Courts” be established in the rest of the governorates.

“Taking into consideration the difficulty of moving the detainees from Lattakia, Aleppo or the Central Court in Damascus, I believe that if we established a terrorism court in Homs or Aleppo, some of the police and Ministry of Domestic Affairs’ burdens would be alleviated,” he added.


What Lies Behind this Administrative Expansion?

Commenting on this, Ghazwan Kurunfu, lawyer and the Head of the Free Lawyers Gathering, said to Enab Baladi that “in the two cases, if the Ministry of Justices has decided to establish a new terrorism court, let it be in Aleppo or Homs, this would be an indicator of two things: The first of which is the size of pressure which the terrorism court in Damascus is witnessing, knowing that any that who opposes the regime is brought before this court; the second is further cancellation of the regular judiciary entities’ role as to oppress the people, since the Terrorism Court is an exceptional one, and its judiciary mechanisms are unjust.”

“The regime believes that it has resolved the situation in its interest and attempts to regain control over the society through all the security and non-judicial tools. It will utilize all the security and legal tools to bring all the society back to the house of obedience, through arresting people anew, who will be brought before the new Terrorism Court,” he added.

For his part, Diyab Sariyeh, the Director of the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison, also a former detainee, considers that the establishment of another terrorism court has the ability to release the pressure imposed on Damascus Court, especially that there are detainees from other governorates.

“The Terrorism Court is related to the application of the Terrorism Combating Law, in passed in 2012, after the cancellation of the emergency state, and thousands of detainees were brought in trial before the Terrorism Court which was established upon the ruins of the National Security Court. Even there are lawyers and judges at that the Terrorism Court, the lawyers’ role remains superficial,” he added, telling Enab Baladi.

All the Syrian detainees are tried in Damascus, and there are people who are being brought in trail before the Field Court under the Terrorism Court, after their parents are forced to pay massive amounts of money to the judicial entities as a bribe, according to Sariyeh, who stressed that this is imposing a huge pressure on Damascus Court, for there are thousands of cases which have not been finalized there, due to the massive number of detainees.

However, Sariyeh believes that a second court if it is to be established would not make a difference in relation to the realization of justice, for, as he put it, the same style is followed in terms of the judgments passed and the miscarriage of justice.

Figures about Sednaya Prison’s Detainees Tried by the Terrorism Court

According to statistics issued by the “Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison,”9% of the Sednaya detainees were brought in trial before the Terrorism Court since its establishment in 2012.

91% of the Sednaya detainees were tried by the Military Field Court since 2012.

Sariyeh adds that the true number is way beyond the stated figure, but this is the only available documented-by-name data, due to the difficulty of reaching statistics inside Syria.








Reopening the Consular Office in Sweida, which Is Already Open

In the context of undertaking steps in advancing “decentralization,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants activated the Consular Office in Sweida, starting from September 24. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs mentioned that this procedure is a part of alleviating some of the people’s suffering, who are forced to travel to Damascus as to document the emigrant people’s documents.

It added that this office is an extension to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, offering several consular services, including the documentation of papers meeting the documentation process’ conditions, issued in Syria and prepared to be applied abroad, or the documents issued abroad as to be used inside Syria.

In addition to receiving the applications of citizens who want to issue a residence deed from the Syrian Embassies abroad, needed for paying the financial substitute of the mandatory military service, which requests the actual presence of the person concerned.

Nonetheless, according to Enab Baladi’s information, and quoting applicants, the office is not new, for the “Single-Window Office” is already there at the municipality, which offers the services of documenting papers for usage outside Syria, including university certificates and marriage contracts, in addition to other services provided months ago.

The only added service is the documentation of external power of attorney, before they it is sent to Damascus for getting the needed security approvals.

These developments come as part of the preparations to open a Consular Office in al-Hasakah, in addition to the one opened in Hama last year. The Head of the Office told “SANA” that this service is under the context of the efforts made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, aiming to activate the consular services in the governorates and to alleviate part of the citizens’ burdens relating to these processes.

These attempts on the part of the Syrian regime, through which it tries to appear as a giver of a decentralized administration, are seen by most of the people as a “crust” under which a central regime holds its fist tight around all the authorities of the state.

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