Protests’ first demand is to release detainees… Is As-Suwayda’s popular uprising going to continue?
Balab Baladi – Rayan Al Atrash
Hundreds of activists from around the southern Syrian province of As-Suwayda are in a state of anticipation, waiting for the release of men who took part, during the protests that took place this June owing to the deteriorating living conditions. The protests have decelerated following the arrest of 11 activists by the Syrian security forces.
As-Suwayda has been relatively calm, which was punctuated by some sit-ins. On 22 June, several female activists held a sit-in in front of the provincial building, calling for the release of the detainees.
The sit-in came after the security committee decided to transfer the detainees to the Syrian capital, Damascus.
The local website “Suwayda 24” reported that there are fears that “The issuance of the order to transfer the detainees to Damascus through the security committee constitutes an encroachment on the Public Prosecutor’s Office of As-Suwayda. In addition, the detainees are likely to be transferred to the Anti-Terrorism Court, by the Criminal Security Administration in Damascus. Consequently, they may be transferred to the cellars of the security branches.
According to this scene, a question arises about the future of the demonstrations in As-Suwayda and how they are connected to the fulfillment of the protesters’ demand to release the detainees, as well as about the role of “the Men of Dignity Movement” that have a significant presence in As-Suwayda in the future of the province if the protests continue, and the regime met them with repression.
The “Syrian Network for Human Rights” documented the arrest of ten demonstrators, the first of whom is Raed Abd al-Khatib, an activist from As-Suwayda, after security forces stormed his office an hour after the demonstration that occurred on 9 June.
On 15 June, the security forces attacked a group of activists in a demonstration that took place in As-Suwayda, beat, and arrested some of them.
On 24 June, Amnesty International said that the government of the Syrian regime must release “immediately and unconditionally” 11 men who were detained in the city of As-Suwayda, following the peaceful protests in the city.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said that the Syrian regime forces launched a campaign of “intimidation,” again involving cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention and arrest, to try to prevent peaceful protesters from expressing their concerns.
In this context, Wael Hatem, a civil activist in As-Suwayda, stressed that many voices called for “The Men of Dignity Movement” and “the Sheikhs of Reason” (parties representing the religious side of society in As-Suwayda governorate), to exert pressure for the release of the detainees of the peaceful As-Suwayda uprising, which raised the slogans against the Syrian regime.
Hatem criticized the role of these entities, saying that “leaders and sheiks have moved away from their real social tasks, not to mention their fragmentation and disintegration. They turned into pawns and tails that tend to act according to the interests of their operators.”
Hatem pointed out that As-Suwayda’s popular movement—which was represented by demonstrations against the head of the pyramid of power and the use of slogans of freedom, social justice, and civil state— came to express the opinion of this silent majority and their consciences, according to Hatem. He referred to the presence of fear factors among the protesters.
Where are the Men of Dignity?
Enab Baladi met with a leader of the “Men of Dignity Movement” (preferring not to publish his name) after he answered several points about the movement’s role at the present time.
The leader said that many voices rose to demand the “Men of Dignity Movement” to protect the peaceful uprising in As-Suwayda, most of whom are affiliated with the opposition, accusing the “Men of Dignity” of the complicit failure to act, pointing out that “the slogan and goals of the movement are known to all, which are land and honor, we do not transgress nor accept transgression. Syrians are forbidden to kill each other.”
The leader demanded not to hastily make accusations and judgments against the movement, calling for control and restraint, considering that many parties are working and striving to fuel disputes and sedition among the people of As-Suwayda, to create confrontation and armed conflict that cannot be contained.
He added, “We know that As-Suwayda’s movement is civil and peaceful, so we cannot help or contribute to what Syria’s enemies want, which is the militarization of the movement.”
After 15 days of the eruption of the peaceful uprising in As-Suwayda, “The Men of Dignity Movement” issued a statement, denouncing the security services’ arrest of the young men who participated in peaceful demonstrations, and warned of internal divisions.
The statement criticized what it described as the “wrong policies” that led to the resurgence of division and rift in the street between loyalists and opponents of the regime, warning of the deepening of the split, and plunging the province into a conflict that “only benefits those who harbor hostile intentions against us.”
The movement said that it also conforms with the principle of freedom of expression, “provided that this freedom does not exceed our known principles and ethics.” It also rejected all forms of arbitrary detention, especially what results from political opinion or thought, apart from the thought that adopts fighting and incitement.” The movement called for unity, avoiding divisions within the governorate, and sent messages warning against sedition and those who described them as “sedition makers and dishonest writers.”
Will As-Suwayda’s popular uprising proceed?
With the increasing security grip, the demonstrations that demanded the overthrow of the Syrian regime turned into a set of silent sit-ins. Moreover, the issue of releasing the detainees has emerged as a top priority, which was manifested in a group of civil actions.
In the past few days, more peaceful sit-ins were called for, which were met with constrictive security measures by the Syrian regime, just like what happened in the city of Shahba, north of As-Suwayda.
The local website “Suwayda 24,” on 25 June, monitored security enhancements that were sent before a sit-in that activists had called for to demand the release of detainees.
Suwayda 24 reported that security reinforcements and a bus to maintain order came to the sit-in location about half an hour before it began, and were stationed inside the government compound, where the gathering was to take place, causing the activists to postpone the sit-in until a later day, for fear of arrest.
Several lawyers have met many times in the branch of the Bar Association in As-Suwayda to demand the application of the law and the return of the detainees to As-Suwayda, according to Suwayda 24.
Enab Baladi monitored, through its meeting with activists in the governorate, a desire to activate the demonstrations, among them the activists Jayed Azzam, who considers this to be a natural reaction to the catastrophic deterioration of the living, security and service conditions.
Azzam pointed out that the protestors aspire to make fundamental changes that allow all Syrians to live in safety, freedom, dignity, and social justice, as well as they, want to liberate Syria from all forms of occupation and external interference.
As for the use of violence and detention to suppress the peaceful civil strife, as happened in the As-Suwayda, “may lead to catastrophic results,” from the activist’s point of view, especially in the stage “where the living situation is no longer bearable.”
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