Families of wanted people abroad fear Syrian intelligence stalking

(An ​​illustration image by Human Rights Watch)

(An ​​illustration image by Human Rights Watch)


Enab Baladi – Lujain Mourad

“All of my dreams are to spend the rest of my life without the Syrian regime’s threats,” Abdullah, 61, has summed up his life in Syria under security pursuits to arrest his son, who is still wanted by the Syrian regime.

Over the previous years, Bashar al-Assad’s regime has worked to stifle families of wanted people, turning their daily lives into a prison based on threats and raids and obstruction of legal proceedings.

The regime knows the whereabouts of the wanted persons outside the borders of Syria, but the security apparatus continues to practice extortion and isolate the families of the wanted persons from society, similar to the isolation of former political detainees in Syria.

Arbitrary arrest campaigns never ended in regime-held areas. In 2021, at least 1,032 people were arrested, including 19 children and 23 women, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR).

Unending fear

“I was repeatedly arrested, and although the period of my detention did not last long, the regime security apparatus was able to maintain a state of constant fear in our house,” Abdullah (pseudonym for security reasons) said, explaining that fear has been controlling his life and his family even in Turkey where they live.

The regime knows that the wanted people are far from returning to Syria, but that did not prevent its security services from threatening their families. The regime used threats as a way to keep wanted families in constant danger, in retaliation for their children, according to Abdullah.

Haneen (pseudonym), a 22-year-old woman, said that the regime is constantly asking about her wanted brothers, always reminding her family that the danger is still there.

Haneen told Enab Baladi that the aim of the security restrictions on the families of wanted persons was only to preserve the perpetuation of the state of fear. She confirmed that the regime security repeatedly asked the question “Aren’t you afraid?” when she was asked about her brothers.

A security car had chased her for days; she did not feel safe even if she was walking on the sidewalk in the street, Haneen added.

Cross-borders threats

Abdullah, who asked Enab Baladi to withhold his real name over fears his wife and daughters will be exposed to danger, does not use social media under his real name, and he also refuses to engage in any debate about the security situation in Syria.

“All of my dreams are to spend the rest of my life without the Syrian regime’s threats and for my family to be in a safe place, where the security grip of the regime would not reach them,” Abdullah says.

Rose, a former detainee by the Syrian security forces, said she became afraid of testifying against those involved in violations who reside in Turkey since her family had been threatened over her participation in an advocacy campaign for female detainees.

Mutasem al-Syoufi, Executive Director of The Day After (TDA) organization, considered that the Syrian regime aims, through security restrictions on the families of wanted persons, to ensure the continuity of terror and deterrence in Syrian society.

Exploit tool

Since March 2011, the Syrian regime has considered the families of the wanted persons as a pressure card on their sons to obtain information and documents or to force them to surrender and retract the positions of the opposition to the regime.

“I was not targeted by the arrest campaigns. The aim was to convey a message to my son that reinforced his guilt towards us and tried to create a sense of remorse within him. I was nothing but a tool of the regime.”

Abdullah described the regime’s quest to turn the wanted people’s families into a mere tool to achieve its goals, which no one could fully expect.

Abdullah said that the security forces kept asking him about his son’s life despite his continuous attempts to confirm there was no communication between him and his son.

After Abdullah was released from prison in 2021, and about two months after his arrival in Turkey, the regime put pressure on him and his son through his wife and daughters residing in Syria, which made him in a state of constant fear, even in his exile.

For Abeer, 54, every time she has been investigated, security agents have been repeating words that start with “Tell your son,” trying to convey a lot of threatening and blackmail messages for him.

Abeer told Enab Baladi that she became a tool to threaten her son by the Syrian regime.

Between fear and compassion

Fear controls the relationship of many of the families of the wanted with their children, forcing them to cut off for many years. Most of the people refuse to travel to meet their children if they have the means to do so, fearing security implications when they return to Syria, according to al-Syoufi.

Fear also forced the parents to make up a lie of their children’s separation from them, and the interruption of communication between them, to escape an unpredictable reaction if they reveal the continuation of communication between them, according to al-Syoufi.

Abdullah asserted that he had avoided contact with his son during his last months in Syria and that communication between them had been interrupted for so long that his son did not know he had fled Syria until he arrived in Turkey.

Abdulsalam, 22, who is the son of Abeer, said that his fear for his mother often outweighs his affection, and this is what prompts him to avoid constant contact with her.

Money makes the impossible

The families of the wanted people, whom Enab Baladi spoke to, were able to escape from the security grip and to conduct their legal transactions that were stopped by government departments without clear reasons.

Abdullah paid a lot of money to be able to get out of the prison, and he had to pay many times to stop the security services from interrogating his wife without holding her for long periods.

Abeer said that the regime tried several times to detain her after interrogating her and asking her about her son, but the money saved her from the nightmare of detention.

Obstructing legal transactions

The regime has not only restricted the security of wanted people’s families, but it has also continued to pressure them by obstructing their legal transactions and making money the only way to manage it.

“At the end of the waiting hours at the Immigration Department, I was faced with two options, either to pay the money they wanted to complete the transaction, or to return without a passport, and in the worst case, be arrested,” Haneen said, accusing the regime of turning legal transactions into blackmail.

As for Abeer, her visits to government departments to obtain a death certificate for one of her sons led her to the investigation room in one of the detention centers.

Al-Syoufi, the Executive Director of The Day After, said the families of wanted people have turned into a tool for financial extortion by the Syrian regime in regard to their private property and wealth.

Exclusion from society

The Syrian regime has worked to deepen a state of isolation of the families of the wanted persons from the surrounding community by creating a state of fear and turning the wanted persons and their families into a place of suspicion, according to what the families of the wanted persons told Enab Baladi.

“The regime succeeded in originating an alienation feeling inside us, even within our walls,” Haneen said, while society practices a form of discrimination against the families of wanted persons by refusing to deal with them and ostracizing them for many reasons, the most important of which is fear, according to Abeer.

Life of the wanted people and their families is a kind of the ‘Representational Isolation,’ which Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies talked about in a study entitled “Overwhelmed Prisons, Disintegrations in Assad’s Prisons,” where the regime was able to turn the society blame on the wanted and their families, seeking to push them for more isolation, and it was able to transform the relation between the society and the families of the wanted persons into a source of concern that may expose them to danger.

The Syrian regime followed three basic elements to achieve its goals, like the cruelty and bloodshed that has taken root in the minds of members of society, the second is the weak organizational environment of the society, politically and civilly, and the third is societal customs that legitimize violence in the absence of a clear accountability mechanism, according to the study.

“Representational Isolation” is a negative reaction by society to the detainee, embodied in perpetuating his isolation from his society.”


Isolation turns civilians into informers

Haneen told Enab Baladi that during the recent raid on their house in search of her brothers, the security escorted a neighbor who had become an informer since the regime took control of the Eastern Ghouta region in 2018.

Most of the recent security restrictions stemmed from information provided by the people of the district, she added.

Abeer also revealed that she is afraid to talk about her son even in front of her relatives and neighbors, fearing that there will be an informer among them, which may put her family in danger.

 “The flagellant, instead of being an individual, he becomes a group. Flogging, instead of being a job, it becomes a daily duty and social practice. Torture and humiliation, instead of being in prison, it becomes an actual present in the public life.”

Syrian drama writer and critic Mamdouh Adwan (1941-2004) said in his book “The Animalization of Man.”




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