Mon 13 Jul 2020

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Social movements to face kidnapping in province of As-Suwayda

A gathering for religious figures and local factions' leaders in al-Qurayya town (Suwayda 24)

A gathering for religious figures and local factions' leaders in al-Qurayya town (Suwayda 24)

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The phenomenon of abducting civilians has increased lately in As-Suwayda province amid the absence of security services, which meant to put an end to this phenomenon. Consequently, the residents of As-Suwayda province and local factions decided to make a move to combat kidnapping.

The local website “Suwayda 24” monitored 22 abduction cases, which took place under different circumstances in different areas of the province last January. The abductees included 17 civilians and five members of the Syrian regime forces and security services.

“Suwayda 24” website mentioned the release of some kidnapped persons in exchange for a ransom or due to the pressure exerted by local factions on kidnappers. However, part of the abducted persons is still held captive.

Civilians take the law into their own hands

On 9 February, religious figures and leaders of local factions held a meeting in Sultan Pasha al-Atrash Madafa (Guesthouse) in al-Qurayya town. The meeting parties gathered under the name of “the National Religious Committee in Jabal al-Arab,” headed by Sheikh Fadlallah Nammour and the leader of a local faction, Sheikh Mahran Obaid.

Tens of people from different areas of As-Suwayda province and some local factions’ leaders attended the meeting in the absence of an official representative of the security services.

The meeting started with the release of two citizens from Daraa, Saad al-Hariri, and Abdullah al-Rifai as a “goodwill” gesture. They were abducted by a group of Narsh and Ghabrah families from As-Suwayda in retaliation to a previous kidnapping of two recruits of these families by a local armed group in Daraa province.  The local armed group aimed to put pressure to release their detainees held in the prisons of the Syrian regime.

The meeting attendees unanimously decided to issue an ultimatum to the kidnapping gangs, which ended at 7 pm on Sunday, 9 February, and they called on all gangs to release all those abducted.

Factions that attended the meeting decided to fight abduction gangs if they did not abide by the ultimatum. They promised that they would respond strongly with fire. Nevertheless, the warning’s deadline was surpassed with no response from the kidnapping gangs.

Can social movements replace the law in As-Suwayda?

Enab Baladi monitored the views of the residents in As-Suwayda province who spoke on the condition of anonymity, about the latest popular movements against the kidnapping phenomenon.

One of the residents of al-Qurayya town supported these movements. He said to Enab Baladi, “we achieved concrete results,” and that is very important for As-Suwayda, which has had no governmental institutions for ten years.”

Another resident said, “the meeting addresses the problem of kidnapping with a bigger problem; it spares the government of its security and legal responsibilities.” He added, “any act outside the law is an announcement to establish new uncontrolled forces.”

A citizen interviewed by Enab Baladi commented that “today gangsters lay down the law in As-Suwayda.” He added, “the dignitaries must know who these gangsters and what gangs they belong to, and can they hold them accountable for their deeds?”.

Security restrictions in As-Suwayda

Suwayda 24 website reported that on 12 February, members of the military intelligence at the checkpoint of the al-Masmiya area on the Damascus – As-Suwayda highway took several new measures a week ago. They carried out identity checks for all people heading to As-Suwayda. They banned citizens who are not residents of As-Suwayda from entering it on the pretext of the deteriorating security condition.

These strict measures came after a wave of widespread criticism of the government for neglecting the security situation in As-Suwayda province and allowing local gangsters to rule the area.

In the last few days, members of the National Defense force (NDF) banned tens of citizens from entering the province. Furthermore, it replaced the drivers of cargo vehicles with other drivers who are initially from As-Suwayda before accessing it.

Cargo vehicles sometimes gathered in a long line accompanied by members of the (NDF), a pro-government militia, when entering and leaving the province. This process was voluntary and for free; however, if the (NDF) did not accompany the vehicles, or could not replace the drivers, vehicles must return to their original place.

The website added that this security measure was met with resentment for the financial and moral damages it caused to the people of the province. It pointed out that the security restrictions also proved that the Interior Ministry and the State Security Committee ignored the events happening in As-Suwayda.

Practical steps to liberate the kidnapped

On 12 February, Suwayda 24 website quoted one of the faction members as saying that the local factions in As-Suwayda were able to free some of the abducted persons: Muawiya al-Sabahat, Adnan al-Mashout, Abdullah Jaweesh, Yousef al-Jardi, and Talal Jafar.

The factions also captured five persons including a lady on the accusation of involvement in kidnapping and carjacking.

In the latest developments related to the abduction and detention cases, the faction “Sheikh al-Karama forces” threatened to ignite an escalation against the military security detachment in Salkhad city.

The warning came after the disappearance of one of the faction’s members named Raad Imad Bali, and the forces called for the immediate release of Bali and all the detainees from As-Suwayda held in the military security detachment.

The faction “Sheikh al-Karama forces” posted on its official Facebook page on 13 February, that after investigating the disappearance case of Bali, it turned out that a security group was responsible for his abduction.

As a reaction, a group of the faction detained officers and intelligence agents. It released them later on as a “goodwill” gesture only after they made sure that Bali is in the hold of the military security detachment and that he will be free soon.

Nevertheless, there was no news about the release of Bali until the time of this report.

Acts against the law

The Syrian law does not acknowledge the role played by local factions as a substitute to the government imposing security or combating crimes against citizens.

According to Article 6 of the Syrian Code of Criminal Procedure promulgated by Decree 112 of 1950, “law enforcement officers are assigned to investigate crimes and collect pieces of evidence, arrest the perpetrators, and transfer them to the mandated courts to punish them.”

As for Article 7 of the Criminal Code, it says, “functions of law enforcement are performed by the Public Prosecutor, his deputies, assistants, and examining magistrates. Justices of the peace can also perform law enforcement functions in departments that do not have public prosecution as per the rules stipulated in the law”.

The law also determines government positions that can alternate in the investigation of criminal cases.

On the other hand, the government did not offer real solutions. Still, somewhat limited security measures performed by militias who are not affiliated with the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of Interior. Therefore, fair trials cannot apply to the kidnapping cases in As-Suwayda province.

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