Restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression in Turkish-influence areas in Syria

Turkish patrol on the Damascus-Aleppo highway on its way to Saraqib, Idlib countryside - 8 March 2019 (Enab Baladi)

Turkish patrol on the Damascus-Aleppo highway on its way to Saraqib, Idlib countryside - 8 March 2019 (Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Taim al-Haj

Freedom of opinion has been harshly suppressed in areas controlled by Syrian factions, backed by Turkish forces, in the Aleppo countryside, due to the practices of some of those factions against civilians, according to activists interviewed by Enab Baladi, in addition to the violations that the “Syrian Network for Human Rights” documented in Syria.

The factions’ violations have reflected the attitudes of a broad segment of civilians who live in these areas, as they became cautious in expressing their opinions, whether in their accounts on Internet, or in street polls conducted by media outlets in the countryside of Aleppo, including Enab Baladi, which highlight the status of services and the security side.

Tweets criticizing Turkey

One of the most prominent detention stories in Aleppo countryside is the story of an orthopedic doctor, Mahmoud al-Sayeh, who criticized Turkey’s policy in its areas of influence in Syria, through his Twitter account at the beginning of 2018.

Enab Baladi communicated with al-Sayeh to talk about the details of his arrest by one of the factions working in al-Bab. However, he preferred not talking for now, due to security reasons, as he is still facing security prosecutions from the intelligence services operating in the Aleppo countryside.

According to previous coverage of Enab Baladi, al-Sayeh was arrested by the Syrian battalion affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, Hamza Division, in the al-Bab city in Aleppo countryside, for criticizing the actions of the factions and the Turkish government, on April 27, 2018.

After his arrest, Syrian activists and media figures launched a campaign on social media calling for the release of al-Sayeh and denounced the practices of the Hamza Division.

According to the Syrian journalist Mousa Omar, the reason for the arrest of al-Sayeh was his tweets that criticized Turkish policy, according to the investigation, which Omar presented on April 27, 2018, through his Twitter account.

 The investigation report included the questions and answers, as well as all the tweets he posted on his “Twitter” account in which he criticized the Turkish policy, in addition to charges that Omar described as “propaganda.”

At the time, Syrian dissident Bassam Jaara considered the charges against the doctor as “ridiculous and dirty” and said that the actions of the Hamza Division are not different from those of the Syrian regime forces.

Al-Sayeh was born in 1970 in the city of Al-Bab in the northern countryside of Aleppo. He was displaced after ISIS’s control over the city and moved to Idlib, where he worked as a doctor in a field hospital, and lost 14 members of his family, including his wife and seven children, on March 15, 2017. He then returned to live in his hometown.

On June 13, 2018, Hamza Division released Doctor Mahmoud al-Sayeh, a month and a half after his arrest in the city of al-Bab in Aleppo countryside.

At the time, the reporter of Enab Baladi in the countryside of Aleppo stated that the police commander in the city of al-Bab released al-Sayeh after receiving him from Hamza Division that illegally arrested him from his home in al-Bab.

Work permits for activists

Media activist Hamam al-Zain, who works in the city of Al-Bab, told Enab Baladi about his detention, due to his work.

Al-Zain said that he was arrested in 2017 in the “Zoghra” camp located on the outskirts of Jarablus city in Aleppo countryside because he photographed there without obtaining prior permission from the factions.

He explained that Turkey was prohibiting filming inside the camp at that time.

He added that he did not have an identity card, pointing out that he had been arrested for several hours by a faction (he did not mention the name) until he was able to introduce himself and his work.

Al-Zain indicated that the situation after 2017 improved for the workers in the media field in Aleppo countryside, particularly after establishing the “Union of Syrian Journalists,” which he described as an umbrella that protects and sponsors media workers in Aleppo countryside.

He said that the Union issued identification cards to the media professionals to facilitate their work, noting that the cards are certified by most local councils, police forces, and some factions in the Aleppo countryside, which greatly assisted the media work.

Documentation of violations

Likewise, the Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented violations in its reports since the entry of Syrian military factions, with Turkish support, into Aleppo countryside, March 2017.

Fadel Abdul Ghany, director of the “Syrian Human Rights Network,” emphasized to Enab Baladi the restriction of freedom in Turkish areas of influence in the Aleppo countryside.

He pointed out that many people were threatened as a result of expressing their opinions and criticizing the factions’ practices.

Abdul Ghany referred to violations against local activists, as they sometimes resort to a policy of forced silencing, noting that these cases are not systematic or numerous, but they exist.

According to Abdul Ghani, such practices make the work of human rights organizations that monitor the facts there tricky, because they have created fear among people, preventing them from expressing their opinions.

Human Rights Law

 In this context, Abdul Ghani said that the Network’s reports also monitored property seizures, repression, and violations of the “International Human Rights Law.”

He also demanded the necessity of an independent judiciary that does not belong to a military authority, and that the court is independent and formed by the local authorities. He also stressed that an independent judiciary will limit arbitrary arrests and silences.

Article 1 and 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in Paris on December 10, 1948, state that all people are free and equal in dignity and rights.

The Declaration also states that everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms, without distinction of any kind, especially discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, political and another opinion, national or social origin, property, or birth, or any other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made based on the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.


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