Opposition’s security practices defamation in northern Syria
Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim
In underwear, their heads bowed, their hair shaved, their eyes toward the ground, two young men appeared in a video recording apologizing for the content they streamed on the TikTok application in the northern city of al-Bab, which was described as a violation of the public morals.
The apology of the two young men came after they were arrested by one of the security units of the Liberation and Building Movement (LBM), affiliated with the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) in the eastern countryside of Aleppo.
The TikTok video of the two young men contained their request for girls to come to the Farah park in al-Bab city.
Several security bodies with various names affiliated with the opposition factions are active in northwestern Syria, which periodically announce operations such as thwarting or seizing narcotic pills smuggling, arresting members of assassination cells, or dealing with the Syrian regime or others.
Under social media ‘guillotine’
The security services publish pictures and video recordings of their security operations, in which some of the accused or violators appear clearly without hiding the details, which is considered defamation and a stigma that haunts them throughout their lives, regardless of whether they are guilty or not.
The issue is not limited to the social media accounts of these security services, as there are many platforms and local networks of these agencies, whose mission is to publish photos and video recordings of the accused, with a lot of praise for the security services that contributed to “maintaining security in the liberated areas,” allowing these photos and recordings to reach the largest number of people and families.
In another scene, with eyes filled with tears and faces showing signs of innocence, three children appeared in front of the camera lens, carrying packs of cigarettes under their clothes, on 30 September 2021. They were detained by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) while they were trying to transfer cigarette packs under their clothes from areas under the control of the National Army in the countryside of Aleppo to the areas of influence of the HTS in Idlib.
Although Tahrir al-Sham detained the children and released them on the same day, the incident sparked widespread anger in the north of Syria, and many criticisms surfaced against the HTS and its security apparatus for arresting children and publishing their picture in this way. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) condemned the HTS’ detention of the three children and their portrayal in a “humiliating” manner, denouncing that these children were treated as if they were “criminals.”
Violation of privacy and irreparable damage
The director of the Syrian Center for Journalistic Freedoms (SCJF), Ibrahim Hussein, explained to Enab Baladi that publishing pictures of any person without his permission through social media is considered an attack on his privacy, so how about publishing in a humiliating manner accompanied by judgment and condemnation from a party that does not have this right.
Hussein added that the accused is innocent until proven guilty by a final court ruling, and this means that the judiciary is the only body that has the power to punish people who violate the law and arrange for them the appropriate penalties.
On the media level, the director of the SCJF said that honor codes require media institutions to respect the privacy and dignity of human beings and not to publish the names and photos of the accused.
He added that it is not permissible to publish degrading images of humans that affect their dignity, even if they are perpetrators of legal violations, because every crime is punishable by law.
Hussein believes that strictness in this prohibition is required for two additional reasons. The first is that social media and the media are not used as tools for retaliation against those who express opinions opposing the de-facto authorities, which limits freedom of expression.
The second reason to prevent such actions is that publishing does not only offend the person whose picture is published but also his family and causes them harm that may not be rectified, even if it turns out later that the person is innocent of what he was accused of.
Last January, a picture spread of a masked member of the General Security Service that is active in Idlib, standing next to a young man who was arrested after publishing a video recording while he was driving, in which he spoke offensive words against girls in the street in the town of Salqin, northwest of Idlib.
According to Enab Baladi’s monitoring, the photo spread widely and was accompanied by abusive words and profanity, affecting the young man, his family, and even his village. Accounts close to Tahrir al-Sham also published the photo, accompanied by a satirical audio recording of the young man.
Violations similar to those of the Syrian regime
Professor Talal Mustafa, a researcher at the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies, told Enab Baladi that the mentality of some of the security services in the northern Syrian regions identifies with the practices of the security services of the Syrian regime, with a big difference in culture between them and the organs of democratic countries governed by laws and constitutions.
The professor of sociology at the University of Damascus previously explained that the loss of this culture causes the security services to behave in the same way as the Syrian regime’s agencies previously acted with them.
Mustafa attributed the reasons for these practices to the absence of several elements of governance, law, accountability, authority, and accountability bodies, and this has also been present in the regime’s areas since the days of former President Hafez al-Assad when the trial of the security services was absent, and they were allowed to deal with civilians as they wished.
The researcher pointed out that the accountability institutions are not called punishment institutions or prisons, but rather they are social and psychological reform institutions, and this is missing in the areas controlled by the regime and the areas controlled by the opposition factions.
Constant worry and dread
These behaviors from the security services will lead people to say that they did not benefit from the revolution, and some may bemoan the days of the regime’s control.
“The violations that were practiced by the regime and its services are now being practiced by the security services in the opposition factions with new faces and names and the same behavior. The issue is two sides of the same behavior,” Mustafa says.
Another effect of these behaviors is the citizen’s loss of his sense of safety and stability or the existence of institutions that protect him, and his living in a permanent state of anxiety, tension, and fear of arrest at any moment without an arrest warrant, as people lived and still live in regime-controlled areas, adds the academic researcher.
Dr. Mustafa noted that people committing a specific behavior in violation, or committing a criminal act, must be arrested, but legally and with official permission, and the accused remains a human being who must be dealt with and tried in a fair trial and even treated in prisons or places of detention.
The reasons that prompted the detainees to commit the offending behavior must also be addressed, and it is assumed that there are psychological and social specialists to treat the problem away from defamation, insult, or ridicule.
No legal ground
Fadel Abdul Ghany, the head of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says that the security services’ treatment of defendants and violators through social media in this way is a dangerous and sensitive issue that leads to tension and hate relations in society.
In his interview with Enab Baladi, Abdul Ghany deplored that social media is a means of accountability, adding that the presentation of people in a humiliating and inhuman manner, and leveling accusations against them through social media, without knowing the reasons or motives, and in the absence of all the details, is not considered criticism of opinions or freedom of opinion, but rather an “accusation and condemnation via social media.”
Most of the recordings and photos published by the security services in northern Syria lack many details, such as a statement of the reasons for arrest or detention, the duration of the person’s trial in the event of a court ruling against him, or the reasons that prompted him to commit a violation, according to what Enab Baladi monitored.
The appearance of the security forces in some videos or photos was limited to their presence in field clothes and weapons, silent and masked next to the accused.
Abdul Ghany attributed the emergence and recurrence of these cases to the absence of a judicial accountability ground, as publishing without a person’s permission is a violation of his right, without knowing the dimensions, and people who watch the recordings will side with the owner of the publication, without knowing or hearing the second point of view.
Abdul Ghany raised a question about to whom a person can complain regarding the practices of the security apparatus, stressing the need to implement accountability through an effective judiciary, follow-up by the judicial authorities in each region, and that accountability be in accordance with a clear law and constitution.
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