Syrian regime enforcing retaliatory security measures against opponents returning to its areas

Hands holding prison bars with a map of Syria in the background (edited by Enab Baladi)

Hands holding prison bars with a map of Syria in the background (edited by Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Diana Rahima

“I cross checked whether my name is on the Syrian regime’s wanted list or not. I was told that it was not.”

These were the last words of Hammam’s friend. Hamman’s friend decided to go back to Syria after being stranded far from home.

Hamman’s friend got arrested upon his arrival in Syria last June. After a significant effort was invested in an attempt to communicate with intermediaries to get him released, they asked for 100 thousand US dollars to be transferred to an account they claimed belonged to the 4th Armored Division. This considerable amount of money was for getting Hammam’s friend out of prison alive and dropping the charges against him. 

The intermediaries said that a person’s name wanted by a security service’s branch could not be found when cross-checking his name in general, Hammam told Enab Baladi

Syrian people coming from abroad or areas outside the Syrian regime’s control are frequently being called in by the security services of the Syrian regime in areas of its control. 

The security services review their biography and question them about their political views and the reasons why they left Syria and then have come back to it, Syrian lawyer Nadir al-Matrouh told Enab Baladi.  

The security services also detain, for indefinite periods, Syrians coming from abroad or outside the Syrian regime’s areas of influence. 

These cases have been recurrent since 2011. The Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison(ADMSP) documented the financial extortion of the families of detainees and forcibly disappeared persons in exchange for providing them with information about their children or loved ones or promising them visits to see them or their release.

The ADMSP’s report shows in numbers that the Syrian regime reaped nearly 900 million US dollars (868,900,573 precisely) from the financial extortion of families of detainees and forcibly disappeared from the beginning of 2011 until the beginning of 2021.

A clear violation of the constitution

Security measures implemented against people coming to the Syrian regime’s areas of control are a blatant violation of the principles of the Syrian constitution of 2012, according to lawyer Matrouh. 

Article-No. 38 of the constitution guarantees that “Every citizen shall have the right to move in or leave the territory of the state, unless prevented by a decision from the competent court or the public prosecution office or in accordance with the laws of public health and safety.”

The security services also arrest people coming to Syria without reference to an arrest warrant issued by a public prosecutor or a specific law, said lawyer Matrouh.

He stressed that no Syrian might be prevented from returning to his homeland or obstructed by the security services to do so because the Syrian citizen enjoys the freedom of movement within or outside Syrian territory; therefore, security measures are a clear violation of the constitution in terms of individual rights and freedoms.

Even if the constitution does not provide for freedom of movement, the original rule of something is its permissibility. The constitution did not mention anything that would detract from this right of movement.

Moreover, the Syrian Penal Code does not include a travel ban as a primary, subsidiary, or additional punishment, whether the crime is of a criminal or misdemeanor character. Thus, subjecting a person to interrogation every time he decides to enter the areas controlled by the regime is a constitutional violation of Article No. 51, which states that “Punishment shall be personal; no crime and no punishment except by a law.”

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of movement is part of the individual’s freedom. This makes it one of the basic human rights. It cannot be used arbitrarily, and without it, the individual may be subjected to political repression.

Freedom of movement can be restricted as a preventive measure in certain cases, according to the lawyer, to guarantee other rights that are feared to be lost if someone is allowed to leave the country before fulfilling these rights. However, these travel restrictions can be applied by a judicial decision that expressly prohibits movement within the country and abroad to ensure the repayments of debt and the execution of a court ruling.  

Moreover, travel restrictions can also be enforced against a person accused of criminal offenses or suspected of committing such crimes. The restriction comes to ensure their appearance before the court and that they would serve the sentence if they are convicted.

Totalitarian use of the law

The security services are supposed to be administratively incorporated with the Ministry of Interior. However, in the Syrian case, not even the Minister of Interior can have authority over them or hold them accountable. In contrast, the head of air or military intelligence has greater authority over these agencies than the Minister of Interior himself, Fadel Abdul Ghany, the director of Syrian Network for Human Rights, told Enab Baladi

The heads of the abovementioned security services have relations with the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad.

So, neither the police nor the judicial system linked to the security services can hold any perpetrators of human rights violations affiliated with the security branches accountable.  

By appointing himself as head of the Supreme Judicial Council in Syria, even though he assumes the executive power and appoints judges in the Supreme Constitutional Court commensurate with his interests, al-Assad ended any role of the judicial power in controlling things. This only occurs in countries that are at the bottom of the international scale, such as Syria and North Korea, according to Ghany.    

legitimizing crime

It is difficult to hold the security services accountable judicially. Not a single security agent has been held liable so far, despite all the violations committed during the security services’ measures, including torture, murder, and rape.

Abdul Ghany pointed out that the Syrian regime’s brutal establishment of the State devised security texts under the name of “laws” to protect the security services. A judge cannot hold the security services accountable or take any step against them. Moreover, security laws or decrees, such as decree 14, article 74, and others, are issued to legitimize their crimes.

Decree 14 stipulates that the state security administration personnel shall not be prosecuted for their duties except under an order issued by their directors. But, their directors will not hold them accountable in the first place because they are primarily responsible for their mistakes. 

Article 74 does not allow holding security services accountable. Legislative Decree No.69, issued in 2008, prohibits the accountability of officers, non-commissioned officers, the Political Security Directorate, and the Custom Brigade, claiming that they are doing their jobs. 

According to international law, if a superior orders his subordinate to perform an act that violates human rights principles, he must not be obeyed. If he is obeyed, both parties are responsible.

 Decree No. 55 issued in 2011 is considered worse than all the previous decrees, according to Abdul Ghany.

 Article 1 protects the judicial police and its delegates and allows the detention of citizens for a period ranging from seven to 60 days, subject to extension, without even directing any accusation against the citizen except that he is a suspect.

According to a report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the regime has violated several articles of the Syrian constitution by holding hundreds of thousands of detainees, even those without an arrest warrant, for many years, without charges, or access to a lawyer, family members, or medical services. 

The report states that “65% of all detainees having become enforced-disappearance cases as the Syrian regime never informed their families of their whereabouts. In cases where families have tried to inquire about the whereabouts of their loved ones, even asking questions might put the families at risk of being arrested themselves.”

In its 2019 report, the Syrian Network for Human Rights documented the disappearance of at least 638 forcibly returned refugees and the death of 15 due to torture. 

The Network called on Syrian refugees to never return to Syria, given that the regime still poses a “violent, barbaric threat.”

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