Raqqa: Detainees’ families endure blackmail since the amnesty issued

Al-Quwatli Street and Raqqa Clock - 23 August 2021 (Enab Baladi /Hussam al-Omar)

Al-Quwatli Street and Raqqa Clock - 23 August 2021 (Enab Baladi /Hussam al-Omar)

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Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Omar

Iman al-Safi, 30, of the northeastern Raqqa city, followed the comments on a photo circulated on Facebook for her detainee brother, over which she wrote that he had gone missing since 2014 at one of the Syrian regime’s checkpoints in Damascus suburbs, appealing for any information about him.

Al-Safi has reposted her brother’s photo in early May, according to what she told Enab Baladi, coinciding with the release of a number of detainees from Sednaya Military Prison due to a general amnesty issued for terrorism-related crimes.

In the meantime, a person wrote to her, saying that he was able to help her.

On the 30th of last April, the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, issued legislative decree No. 7 of 2022, granting a general amnesty for what he classified as “terrorist crimes,” except for those that led to the death of a human being, which were committed before the date of the decree’s announcement.

The decree calls for “granting a general amnesty for terrorist crimes committed by Syrians” before 30 April 2022, “except for those leading to the death of a person,” according to the AFP.

These crimes include those stipulated in the “Anti-Terrorism” Law No. 19 of 2012 and the Penal Code issued by Legislative Decree No. 148 of 1949 and its amendments, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).

“Bashar al-Assad has decreed several amnesties during the country’s devastating 11-year war, but the latest in April was the most comprehensive related to terrorism charges since the conflict began,” rights activists told AFP.

Amnesty as “opportunity”

Every time an amnesty is issued for detainees, the case of brokering and fraud is activated by people who practice this profession, taking advantage of the detainees’ families’ concerns and the possibility of asking them what they want in exchange for information about their relatives.

Since the start of the arrest campaigns in Syria in 2011, hundreds of brokers and fraud gangs have been active, taking advantage of the impotence of families who are always ready to lose anything in exchange for one piece of information that reassures their hearts of their children and loved ones, in light of the transformation of most of the arrests in Syria into cases of enforced disappearance.

Too much money without getting to the truth

Al-Safi explained to Enab Baladi that the stranger who contacted her through the Messenger application said that he could bring information about her brother’s whereabouts, promising her also to “take him out with the people who left under the amnesty” because he “can communicate with influential people in the regime.

She added that he asked her for a sum of 1,000 US dollars to get the information, including making a phone call with her brother, and an additional amount equal to 20,000 dollars to get her brother out of prison as part of the payments, provided that he receives half of this amount after making the call, while he will receive the remaining payment upon her brother’s arrival in the governorate. 

Al-Safi was unable to secure the amount despite the attempts she made, perhaps fortunately for her, because she discovered after a short time that the person who contacted her was only trying to exploit her situation and was not able to do anything. The discovery came through warnings issued in Raqqa that spoke of people trying to exploit the detainees’ families, accompanied with phone numbers and fictitious Facebook accounts, including the account of the person who contacted her.

On 27 May, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) documented the Syrian regime’s release of 527 people after the amnesty, stressing that despite the lapse of about a month since the decree was announced, the regime is still holding about 132,000 detainees since the beginning of the protests in Syria in 2011.

No freed detainees from Raqqa

According to what Enab Baladi monitored, the local rights organizations working to document the names of the released have not documented the release of any detainee due to the amnesty from Raqqa, which is controlled by the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).

The Raqqa-based rights advocate Marwan Sabri told Enab Baladi that the Syrian regime has avoided releasing people from areas outside its control for fear that those detainees would report details of the violations that they were subjected to in detention to the local or foreign media that is active in those areas.

Sabri emphasized that “brokering” and the exploitation of detainees’ relatives by some people is an old matter that was activated by the recent amnesty decree, and many Syrians may have fallen victim, trying to alleviate the suffering of their relatives who are in the regime’s detention centers.

Asayish intervenes in the event of evidence

A source from the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) in Raqqa told Enab Baladi that Asayish had received reports of people on digital platforms who tried to exploit the families of detainees in the cities of Raqqa and Tabqa, but the security forces did not take any action against them.

The security source attributed the failure of Asayish to take any action to the absence of tangible evidence proving the conviction of certain people, especially that the numbers and accounts that were reported are mostly fake under pseudonyms or have been deleted from social media platforms.

He pointed out that the security services in Raqqa deal with these cases as activating the sleeper cells of the Syrian regime and arresting any person who tries to exploit the detainees’ relatives if he is found guilty.

 

 

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