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Rising crime levels in Hama with little accountability

Citizens walking in a street in the Syrian city of Hama - October 15, 2018 (Sputnik)

Citizens walking in a street in the Syrian city of Hama - October 15, 2018 (Sputnik)

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Residents of Hama have been expressing their concerns on social media about the deteriorating security situation in the city. Residents are calling to hold the culprits accountable criticizing the failure of competent authorities but without pointing at specific names. The unease comes after a series of incidents of thefts, killings and kidnappings whose perpetrators can be seen living  normal lives in the city, with “cases were closed with anonymous perpetrators.”

The latest incident was the murder of two sisters, Hind and Neamat Hamad, who were found “slaughtered” in their apartment on Monday morning, 27 October.

Al-Hamidiyah police branch and the criminal security branch in Hama said that the murderer had a relationship with the two victims. He came to their house in al-Hadher district (east of the city), on the pretext of buying an electrical device, and brought with him juice bottles mixed with sleeping drugs that he gave to them.

After making sure they fell asleep, he called his partner to join him in carrying out the crime. They both repeatedly stabbed the two victims to death and then stole their gold jewelry and an amount of more than three million Syrian Pounds (SYP).

Police were able to retrieve no more than 200,000 SYP of the stolen money from one of the arrested perpetrators. The suspect admitted that the killing of the two victims occurred because he feared his affair with the two victims would be revealed.

The incident raised fears in the city, and some of the residents called for retribution and for the perpetrators to be executed in the central Assi Square, “so that they become a lesson for those who commit crimes like these,” according to local Facebook pages.

Fears surround the people of the city

In the same month, the city witnessed another murder. The murder happened in the al-Andalus neighborhood during an altercation between young men in one of the city’s public buses. The altercation escalated to a quarrel after they got off the vehicle and ended up with the stabbing of a young man who died instantly. Enab Baladi communicated with a number of sources in the city of Hama, who stated that the killings have raised the residents’ fears of these crimes’ reoccurrence.

A student at the Faculty of Architecture (who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons) said that she has become afraid to leave the house on her own for fear of theft and murder. “I used to go to the university on my own every day in the early morning, but after these killings in Hama, I go out with my father and sometimes with my younger brother, to avoid dangerous situations.”

An employee at the National Museum in Hama (speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons) pointed out that she was leaving her workplace before the end of the official working hours. The museum is located in the ancient part of Hama, which contains narrow alleys that only people who need to go to the place cross them.  “I had problems in my work, especially with the start of winter term. Most of us go out before sunrise to our work and we return in the evening. This is a dangerous time. We are thus obliged to secure our own safety by ourselves as long as the police do not care about the safety of civilians.”

“Documented” security deterioration

Although military operations in the city of Hama have been less than those in the main Syrian cities in the past eight years, the city has witnessed a significant security deterioration, which has been documented by official media outlets.

In a report published in April 2018, the government newspaper Tishreen said that scenes of murder, kidnapping, or theft of money and cars became common in Hama after the start of the war in Syria.

According to statistics published by the newspaper, 2013 is the bloodiest year in terms of the number of murders and abductions, with 53 cases of kidnapping and 43 murders. Various other crimes also increased including document forgery, theft of official seals and smuggling of women using ‘camouflage’.

The increase in crime is not limited to the city. The provicial roads leading to the western countryside of Hama, such as Beit Yashout, Masyaf and others, also witnessed crimes by armed bandits, and murders; many of which remain unsolved.

According to local media, the weapons used in the murders are military-issue, such as Russian rifles or grenades, and are often used to end disputes.

Organ trade 

In 2017, Hama also experienced a difficult period where women and children were abducted through public transport. The kidnappers stole the victims’ organs and threw them on the road.

Nour al-Khatib, an official at the Syrian Network for Human Rights, said in an interview with Enab Baladi that the network documented 138 cases of kidnapping in the city of Hama, including 14 children and 23 women from 2013 up to 30 October 2019.

Al-Khatib explained that “the state of security chaos is due to the intervention of more than one security branch, in addition to the nature of the Quartet Security Committee of Hama governorate, formed after the city’s complete submission to the regime, and its limited mission of further oppressing the citizens.”

She added that other factors such as poverty, weak moral deterrent and the increase of “the banditry phenomenon”, which is “adopted by young people in the city,” caused the recurrence of incidents against the citizens.

Al-Khatib considered that the increase of crime rates is a result of the perpetrator’s belief in his impunity, especially if he has relations with or belongs to the security services.

Private prosecution guarantees retribution 

In light of weak policing mechanisms, the citizens should report the cases of kidnapping, theft or murder and organize private prosecution.

Enab Baladi contacted a lawyer in the city of Hama, who spoke on condition of anonymity and shed light on the legal procedures followed in case of a crime, indicating that the special prosecution raises the penalties for the perpetrators.

“Section 10 of the amendments to the Penal Code abolished article 533 on intentional homicide, raising the sentence from 15 to 20 years and from temporary hard labor to life imprisonment.” He added.

The lawyer explained that in case “the killer intended to kill, the punishment against him is raised to the death penalty.” He cited the example of robbing a house at night: the circumstance and time of robbery mean that the incident was an “aggravated assault leading to an aggravated murder and is often punishable by the death penalty.”

The lawyer confirmed the need for a private prosecution, as its absence means the prosecution of the offender in accordance with the law of public right, and diluting the punishment to be imposed on the offender to one-third.

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