Enab Baladi publishes details from Idlib’s ‘Public Morality’ draft law

The head of the Syrian Salvation Government and the ministers of interior and agriculture visit the police academy - September 27, 2023 (Salvation Government)

The head of the Syrian Salvation Government and the ministers of interior and agriculture visit the police academy - September 27, 2023 (Salvation Government)

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Enab Baladi has obtained an unofficial copy of the “Public Morality” draft law from the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) operating in Idlib, issued by its Ministry of Interior, with 128 articles, including the formation of a morality police.

The draft law is divided into five sections, including a set of rules and provisions related to the moral and behavioral system of individuals in the areas under the control of the Salvation Government, the political umbrella of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

The morality police are responsible for issuing violations against non-compliant individuals, among other responsibilities assigned to this authority, as stated in the draft law.

A media office official in the Salvation Government told Enab Baladi that the draft is proposed and in its final stages, but it is not considered official until it is published in the official gazette, and it could be published soon.

The tasks

In Chapter I of Section III, the draft law stipulated the powers entrusted to the morality police, including overseeing the public media, entertainment, and recreational facilities, commercial, industrial, and service institutions, roads, and public facilities, and preventing violations of public morals and decency.

The police also have the authority to prevent violations, document or remove them, apprehend the violators, or close violating shops.

The police escalate their efforts in preventing violations, from alerts to force prevention, and the police do not impose any punishment, whether material or moral, on the violators, but the violator is referred to the judiciary.

The morality police are composed of men and women, and men from the police are prohibited from registering violations against women and women from the police against men.

According to the law, the morality police must carry out patrols, and their number per day varies according to the situation, but it will not be less than three patrols.

According to Article 8 in the second chapter, if an authority or a specific entity has jurisdiction over a certain matter, the public morality police has no authority to deal with it except within its jurisdiction.

It is not the responsibility of the morality police to inspect individuals except superficially to check for weapons, and they are not entitled to inspect mobile phones and documents, eavesdrop, spy, enter private residences, search shops and vehicles, or enter homes.

Their work is limited to apparent violations in public areas, which are, as stated, every absolute prohibition that is not subject to difference, and apparent social violations and violations of public taste, prohibited by law, and what is issued by the ministry in banning it.

The morality police can be contacted to report violations through special numbers, and written or verbal reports are accepted, whether the source is known or anonymous.

Prohibitions and violations

The draft of the ‘Public Morality Law’ includes prohibitions and violations within different categories that individuals are required to avoid, such as religious prohibitions, public morality violations, violations related to animals, violations in wedding halls and events, violations in malls and commercial markets, violations in restaurants and cafes, violations in parks, amusement parks, and recreational areas, road and public facility violations.

The religious prohibitions approved by the Salvation Government include the prohibition of insulting God, the prophets, and religion and disparaging Islamic rituals, symbols, and scholars.

They also include sorcery, fortune-telling, reading coffee cups and palms, publicly eating during Ramadan, opening shops during Friday prayers, and girls over 12 years old leaving without wearing modest attire.

In addition to prohibiting a man from being alone with a foreign woman, fornication, cursing, drinking alcohol, gambling, theft, eating up women’s inheritance, and disobeying parents.

The chapter on public morality violations includes prohibiting mixing between the two genders, except with proof that they are mahrams (a family member with whom marriage would be considered permanently unlawful), as well as prohibiting musical instruments and visual and auditory displays that are contrary to religion and public taste.

Smoking is prohibited in public and service institutions, hospitals, medical centers, and pharmacies, as well as public transportation.

Displaying “indecent” commercial goods on store fronts is prohibited, as is standing in front of schools, institutes, universities, and women’s private places in a manner contrary to social customs.

The draft law specifies animal-related violations, prohibiting the torture and abuse of animals and using them for wrestling.

As for wedding halls and events violations, the draft law prohibits musical performances and shows “contrary to religion,” firing guns, gender mixing, installing surveillance cameras in changing rooms, and taking pictures of women without permission.

Mall and commercial premises owners are required to assign permanent guards at the main entrances, prohibit playing songs and music, and assign a female seller in premises selling female clothing, and refrain from installing surveillance cameras inside.

Violations related to restaurants and cafes include a complete separation between the male and family sections, including their public facilities.

Providing sufficient curtains to separate tables related to the family category and not installing surveillance cameras inside the section are also stated in the draft law.

Hookah or water pipes are also prohibited, as well as playing songs and shows contrary to religion and general taste and loud noises.

Arrest procedures

According to the fifth chapter, the specialized police elements (morality police) are authorized to arrest the perpetrators of the mentioned violations and write a report on that, and they must immediately inform the judge with a warrant, and the detainee may not be kept in custody for more than 24 hours without being presented to the judge.

The arrest is conducted in designated places affiliated with police departments, and arrest is only permissible there.

If more than 48 hours have passed on the detainee in the detention center without a decision being issued by the judge, he must be released immediately.

Female detainees are placed in the designated detention section for women, and the laws and regulations governing the detention of minors and girls are taken into account.

Morality Police

The Salvation Government did not announce the official draft of the law, but the Ministry of Interior has previously announced the opening of membership registration for work within the public morality police according to specific conditions, and registration began on the second of this January and continues until the seventh of the same month.

As per the ministry’s announcement on Facebook, among the conditions for joining is being a graduate of the Faculty of Sharia or Sharia Institute, and being between 30 and 40 years old, physically and mentally healthy, of good conduct and behavior, not convicted of a felony or crime, and passing the course determined by the ministry.

With the dissolution of the al-Hisba authority years ago, after popular protests by the residents of the area against the restrictions imposed on them, the tasks assigned to the public morality police do not differ from what the other bodies used to do, which was represented by “al-Falah Center” and the “Goodwill Corps.”

A contrastive diplomatic discourse

Under the influence of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Salvation Government was formed on November 2, 2017, with 11 ministerial portfolios, headed by Mohammed al-Sheikh at the time, and it settled on ten ministries over the past years, returning to 11 ministries with the establishment of the Ministry of Information in January 2023.

The Public Morality Law project comes after steps taken by the Salvation Government and HTS that moved away from the extremist religious discourse, adopting an open discourse towards the West by using diplomatic, political language with the idea that the HTS is not “terrorist” and is not concerned with carrying out external attacks and targeting Western interests.

During a meeting of the general commander of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, with ministers in the Salvation Government and the General Shura Council and elders in the northern Syria region on the 27th of April last year, he said that the authority of prohibition is only with God, and the authority on earth has the right to prevent violations and to manage what is permissible and impermissible, and the prohibited can only be decided by decisive evidence and proof.

He added that the existence of an “executioner” at the door of a court or a preacher in the markets is a “marginalization of Sharia”, as he described it, pointing out the existence of a “public morality” police and an interior ministry dealing with violations, and has regulations on restaurants and cafes that regulate them within a specific framework.

He said that the call aspect must prevail over the stick, and the customs of the people must be taken into account, and unsuccessful experiences must not be repeated, giving an example of Saudi Arabia when it used to prohibit women from driving as being forbidden, then allowed it, indicating that the authority is in contradiction.

Decisions for students

On August 6, 2023, the Ministry of Education in the Salvation Government issued a directive to private educational institutions, carrying several legitimate guidelines, including the removal of unauthorized drawings and images from the walls in schools and wearing loose and modest Islamic attire by students of the basic and secondary education stages.

As well as wearing loose and modest Islamic attire by female staff, complete separation between male and female students for the basic and secondary stages, refraining from bringing phones by students, staying away from music, indecent shows, and violations of the Sharia guidelines on social media platforms belonging to educational institutions, and at celebrations held by schools inside or outside the facilities.

The ministry requested staying away from “fashions” that violate religious teachings and customs, such as haircutting and makeup and appearing in a way that contravenes religious teachings, according to the circular.

Previously, the Salvation Government imposed the separation of male and female students in universities by setting different school days for each of them, and in some colleges, it has designated departments for females and others for males.

Controversial incidents are recurring in northern Syria, the most recent being the al-Hamra mall incident, during the first annual festival of the mall on December 7, 2023, which received wide criticism on the grounds of “excessive mixing, immodesty, and playing music.”

The Friday sermons in several mosques in the city of Idlib spoke about what they described as “excesses and sins witnessed by the mall and behaviors contrary to morals” at that time.

 

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