A New Method for Syria’s Security Services?

Iranian men who had been held hostage by Syrian rebels since early August celebrate as they arrive at a hotel in Damascus after being freed in a prisoner swap on 9 January 2013. (Photo: AFP - Louai Beshara)

By: Marah Mashi

Published Wednesday, January 16, 2013

To return to Damascus from Beirut is to be a fresh target for Syrian security services. Just talking on the phone about politics or using terms that might catch the attention of the security services – for example, the ‘Syrian National Coalition’ – is enough grounds to find oneself summoned for further questioning.

An officer, likely a colonel, may interrogate you personally. He may ask, very politely, questions like: What were you doing in Beirut? With whom did you meet? What ties do you have to the Coalition and the biased media that sympathize with it?

Experiences like the one above are commonplace. Ahmad recounted how, after posting slogans like “Stop the killing,” and “Freedom for so-and-so,” on Facebook, he was reported to security services in June 2012.

After a round of torture, Ahmad was detained for three months. Initially, the young man, in his twenties, was not in contact with any rebel factions. But when he left prison, he carried with him a grudge.

He reached out to one of the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs) and then to the so-called rebel military councils in Yalda, Tadamon, and al-Hajar al-Aswad, to provide logistical support for the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The weird thing is that ever since he became actively involved in the opposition, he has not been arrested once. “Perhaps I became more cautious,” he said.

But Ahmad’s caution did not serve him too well. A few days after we spoke, he was killed near an area that is at the center of frequent clashes between the Syrian army and the armed opposition.

For his part, Samer, a 17 year old from Idlib, was charged with assisting the opposition – through his donkey. He was the youngest prisoner in the detention facility and found himself among senior members of the opposition. When Samer left prison, he joined the opposition fighters.

Fayez sells cucumbers from a stall in Damascus’ Midan neighborhood. The man uttered the phrase “It’s his final days” – in reference to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – too many times for the liking of security services, and was soon arrested and interrogated, disappearing for several months.

After the Arrests, What Happens?

Things are no different from the past. On the contrary, there is a virtual consensus that freedoms are suffering now more than ever. Although decrees are issued from time to time granting amnesty to some detainees “who do not have blood on their hands,” they often leave out many prisoners of conscience.

This has impacted, among others, members of the opposition National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC).

For instance, the fates of Abdul-Aziz al-Khair, Eyas Ayash, and Maher Tahan – all leading members of the NCC – remain unknown. In an official statement, the Syrian Ministry of Information accused an armed gang of abducting the three men.

Sources in the NCC verified that they were detained by authorities, even learning where they were picked up and subsequently imprisoned. Two weeks ago, the NCC lost track of them after they were transferred to an undisclosed location.

Hundreds of other NCC members have been detained after taking part in demonstrations or distributing pamphlets. One is Qais Abazli, an activist whose life soon turned into a never-ending series of detentions that ultimately forced him into exile.
Recently, four members of the NCC-affiliated Communist Action Party – Majdoleen Hassan, Haitham al-Jundi, Mufid Dayoub, and Samir Haidar – were released. They had all been arrested on charges of “belonging to a secret unlicensed party” and were detained.

Although they were released following the recent prisoner swap, they were not included in that exchange. Instead, the Communist activists were released on a paltry bail of 5,000 Syrian pounds, about $70. To the NCC, this was proof of the charges’ worthlessness.

Treatment of prisoners varies at each security services branch and is dependent on the charges levied against the individual, whether true or false. Based on experiences of those detained, many reported little abuse, while others none at all. Different treatment is afforded male and female prisoners, and also varies according to the detainee’s occupation and social status.

Today, it is even possible to witness the security services apologizing to individuals whom they detained. When they are returned to their homes, it is with “their dignities restored.”

It has also become the custom for security officers to ask their visitors at the end of their interrogation, “Has anyone insulted or harassed you?” or “You always say that we mistreat those we interrogate. Did we not prove to you otherwise?”

Nowadays, at the very least, it has become important for the security services to appear professional, even if it’s just another manifestation of the same foul tactics. However, it’s certainly a different matter altogether if the detainee is proved to be involved in acts that are clearly hostile to the authorities.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

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Our heart and prayers goes out to all innocent casualties in Syria.

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Terrible situation in Syria. I find it difficult to choose a side, where casualties are at both camps. The civilians are the losers. I wonder when it's all over and cannot even imagine what it must be to be there. God bless all. Lana spiegels

Al Akhbar's new apparent line of following main stream trends of taking every cheap shot at the Syrian regime is becoming very apparent. Al Akhbar has become mere sensationalism deeming the terrorist attack on Aleppo University yesterday unworthy of publishing about in the English website and opting instead to use this unrealistic piece in a country where terrorism is a common place dailly and security have no time to monitor the hundreds of thousands of anti-regime activists. From that piece mocking Syria and Aleppo's destruction through mocking SANA to this, Al Akhbar with its suspected new funding has become another worthless tabloid. Disgrace.

Waht do you mean by "suspected new funding"? Could you please elaborate further?

Aleppo University attack was reported here yesterday: http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/14663

1. it's not on the main page anymore yet less important stuff make it there for far more days
2. it's not even Al Akhbar piece, it's just copying Associated Press

Are you being serious? Do you mind explaining where you get your sources from all the way in Beirut? Is it the thousands of refugees that have left the country telling you they saw this and saw that? Or are you paying too much attention to the bullshit being fed to you by the MSM.
Your article is nothing but a mockery of actual LEGITIMATE opposition in the country that has nothing to do with this disgusting dirty filthy insurgency that you are encouraging with the publishing of lies like this. People in the country are working to stop this and your poison is fuelling fires that need to die down.
"Things are no different from the past. On the contrary, there is a virtual consensus that freedoms are suffering now more than ever." << This is probably the biggest laugh out of the entire article. Please Ms Mashi tell me when was the last time you went to Aleppo? Do you even know what people there are going through? Or are you going to take the account of an eye-witness sipping cocktails in Al-Hamra street as truth rather than the experiences and tragedies of families literally besieged in the city thanks to these thugs (which by the way sounds like you've made up...lets be realistic did you google "arabic names" and stitch whatever you found together to make up a 'political activist') that your article is glorifying.
Its amazing what petro-dollars does to the credibility of a journalist (dont flatter yourself youre clearly lacking the necessary credentials to call yourself a journalist, especially working for this propagandist rag)
Maybe your time would have been better spent writing about the 150 martyrs who were murdered by the FSA? Or is that your next article? Blaming the Syrian Army for this tragedy?

crazy words. u judge people in a bad way. what do u know abut the journalist? u can't hear another opinion. this journalist is with the national army operations, and wrote a lot of articles about the martyrs of the syrian army. stop ur defending of the syrian security forces, in syria we distenguish between the security forces and the syrian army. so stop ur lies

National army? The same army we saw hauling furniture onto trucks after 'cleansing' neighbourhoods from militants? The same army who beat a certain apolitical labourer with rifle butts until his lower half turned all blue and he was unable to move for two weeks?
By the way, the journalist who is accused by the buddy above of lying is telling her personal story about how she was 'courteously' arrested for saying the word Coalition while speaking on her phone. She's the last one to be accused of being anti-regime. When a regime succeeds in (even temporarily) alienating its most stalwart defenders, you know what kind of regime that is.

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