A New Method for Syria’s Security Services?
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.