Section (1) Personal Freedom
Detentions without trials
Methods of Detention without Trial In Light of the State of Emergency in Syria
Torture and humiliating treatment of detainees
Torture of Political Prisoners
Types of torture and mistreatment reported to Amnesty International Organization
Arresting detainees’ families as hostages
Disappearance of Detainees
Section (1) Personal Freedom
Personal freedom means a person can personally act to safeguard his dignity and existence, and is not subject to humiliation aimed at him personally or at his feelings. Personal freedom also means recognition of dignity inherent in the overall existence of the human family members and their permanent human rights. The introduction to the World Declaration on Human Rights maintains that “recognition of the dignity inherent in the overall members of the human family and their constant equal rights constitutes the basis for freedom, justice, and peace in the world”.
The above mentioned declaration provides “for every individual’s right to life, freedom, and personal security”.
The right to freedom is one of the basic human rights which is advocated by all international documents, namely Article (9) of the World Declaration on Human Rights and Article (9) of the International Agreement on Civil and Political Human Rights.
There is a rule emanating from this right and that is the impermissibility of detaining any person without a judicial judgement and that there is a need to treat detainees in a humanitarian manner.
Article (28) of the Syrian Constitution asserted the following:
Every indicted person remains innocent unless condemned according to a final judicial ruling.
It is impermissible to interrogate or detain anyone unless it is done according to law.
It is impermissible to inflict physical or moral torture or humiliating treatment against anyone. Penalty against perpetrators will be determined by law.
The right to litigation, refutation, and defense before a Court of Law is guaranteed by Law.
Article (9) of the International Agreement on Civil and Political Rights stipulated the following:
“Every individual has the right to freedom and personal integrity. It is impermissible to arrest or detain anyone coercively, or deprive anyone of his/her freedom unless it is done according to Law and in line with the measures established therein. So, are these articles of Law applied in Syria? And what are the methods of detention in Syria in light of the State of Emergency?”
1. Detentions without trials
We have indicated in Chapter (1) of this book that an obvious feature of the human rights situation in Syria is the application of repressive laws. We have also provided a full explanation of the Emergency Law as well as the State of Emergency declared in Syria since 8th March 1963. As detention was carried out according to the rules and regulations of this Law, it has been necessary to inform the reader of the way citizens in Syria were detained in line with the Law underlying the State of Emergency and the already established procedures in this regard.
Methods of Detention without Trial In Light of the State of Emergency in Syria
During discussions of the first item on the agenda related to repressive laws, participants were informed of the State of Emergency’s impact on human rights, especially in terms of violating the principle that detention without trial is impermissible!!
This section has demonstrated the methods used in detentions without trial within the framework of the State of Emergency in Syria.
The present application of the Emergency Law has not only led to concentrating authorities in the hands of the Prime Minister or the Interior Minister, but also turned the Martial Ruler Department into a secret conspiratorial legislative institution which can order anyone to do or stop doing anything contrary to any judicial legislation or ruling. In order to introduce the reader to some de facto details of the way citizens are detained in Syria according to the State of Emergency and the practices perpetrated to this effect, and in order to make our study objective, we will present the following important details:
A. Methods of Detention Orders
One. The authority which orders detention and methods of detention orders.
It is not practically possible to specify the authority which orders detaining any citizen, because this is related to a variety of civil and military security organs. For instance, these organs include Military Intelligence, Air Forces Intelligence, Presidency of the Republic Intelligence, Pan Arab and Political Security, Saraya Difa’ (Defense Companies), Saraya Sira’ (Combat Companies), and the Special Units. All these organs are authorized to issue orders to arrest any citizen without explaining the reasons. Arrest orders are issued either verbally by the Chief of the Security Organ, or by cable or telephone or through a written document. Arrest orders are carried out by elements of the Security Authority which issued the arrest order without notifying other organs of such arrest. In other words, there is a unique type of “decentralization” in terms of bestowing the martial rulers’ powers on the Security organs and authorizing them to carry out arrests deliberately. The Deputy Martial Ruler Department at the Interior Ministry is the Administrative Source of Reference. Apparently this violates the text of the fourth article of the Emergency Law which requires issuance of a written order regarding any measure taken by the Martial Authority. When the Intelligence or Security men carry out an order to arrest any citizen, they invade his home or place of work day or night to detain him by force using arms, without showing a written order to arrest him. These men do not inform such citizen of the reasons for his detention or the organ which ordered to arrest him. Once the detainee is held by the Authority which ordered his arrest, a phase of interrogation starts by using different methods of torture.
The detainee’s family and relatives do not know where he is detained or the organ which ordered to arrest him or the reasons for arresting him.
Two. When is the martial order issued to detain a person: before or after he is arrested?
In the absence of exercizing any authority on the part of the General Prosecution, persons are arrested according to a martial order. The Administrative Authority entitled to issue arrest orders, i.e. Martial Ruler Department, is supposed to follow the same method used by the Judicial Authority, and that is refraining from arresting any person before a written order is issued to that effect. This is also a requirement advocated by the fourth article of the Emergency Law.
But what takes place on the ground is quite to the contrary. The diversified and decentralized Security Organs authorized to arrest people along with contradictory implementation of arrest orders yielded a weird methodology different from that of all world systems.
A review of some patterns of this methodology will reveal certain strange features:
First pattern (most common): The Security Authority which carries out arrest orders keeps blank forms of martial orders already signed by the Deputy Martial Ruler, and all this Authority has to do is fill in the detainee’s name.
Second pattern: No martial arrest order is issued unless the interrogation period has expired, especially in campaigns of mass arrests. Arrest order forms are usually filled out retroactively as of the actual arrest date. In the event that some persons are released, orders of arrest and release are issued on the same day.
Third pattern: If a person to be arrested managed to remain hidden and the Authority could not detain him, a martial order will be issued to arrest him, and a circular will be addressed to Border Points and other security organs to arrest the aforementioned person. It is generally the case that these organs tend to detain the wanted person’s relatives as hostages to force him to hand himself over to the Authority.
Three. Is the period of detaining the person specified within the martial order? Is it permissible to make an objection to continuing detention for an indefinite period of time?
On the whole, it can be said that all martial orders to arrest people do not restrict detention periods. This explains the expanding term of detention without trial for more than ten years. In fact, there are people who have been detained for fifteen years. On the other hand, the Emergency Law in Syria does not include any text that allows a detainee to submit a petition or an objection to his detention or continuing detention to any Judicial Authority, as indicated repeatedly in Article (3) of the Egyptian Emergency Law which was amended according to Law No. (37) of 1972 and which allows a detainee to submit a petition within (30) days from the date of his detention to the Higher State Security Court.
The Syrian Administrative Judiciary have not been given an opportunity to express their views towards the legitimacy of the martial ruler’s decisions to detain persons, on the basis that these are administrative decisions which can be revoked by the Administrative Judiciary. It is practically impossible to file such a lawsuit because the detainee is in prison, on the one hand, and can be liquidated if he submits this lawsuit through an agent, on the other hand.
Four. Who does the Martial Authority direct its detention measures against, and for what reason?
The State of Emergency is primarily an extraordinary situation which allows the Executive Authority in certain critical cases, such as the state of war which is claimed by the Regime Authorities in Syria, to take measures intended to safeguard the State security, sovereignty and independence of the homeland against aggression. In other words, the Martial Authority’s measures should be directed against collaborators with the enemy to undermine the country’s sovereignty and independence. In fact, the Martial Authority’s detention resolutions without trial have only been directed against citizens suspected of opposing or refusing cooperation with this Authority.
Campaigns of detention without trial started since 1970 and lasted up to now, and involved political groups which are not cooperating with the Regime. The Martial Authority’s practices are not intended to safeguard the homeland’s security, but to secure survival of the Regime and prevent citizens from exercizing their right to the freedom of expression. This Regime considers such freedom a threat to its own survival, and, therefore, uses the State of Emergency both as a preventive and retaliatory means simultaneously in order to live longer.
We would like to point out that the Martial Orders to detain citizens go so far as to include those who were sentenced to prison by Extraordinary Courts and whose imprisonment period has expired. In view of the Authority’s willingness to refrain from releasing detainees, it tends to issue Martial Orders to detain citizens indefinitely. And this actually represents a punishable offense, according to the Syrian Penal Code.
Various imprisonment sentences of several people have expired, and memos were, therefore, issued to release them. Thus, they thought they have become free, but were suddenly taken by the Intelligence elements from the Civil Prison to Intelligence Centres where they were detained. This frequent occurrence was noted by the Amnesty International Organization’s report issued in 1983.
Participants in the seminar will review a list of the names of detainees without trial including some detainees who have been held for (15) years or longer.
In its report issued in 1983, Amnesty International Organization said the following: “Most detentions which are of a political nature in Syria are not carried out by criminal policemen, but at the hands of Security Forces, according to the State of Emergency Law which gives Security Forces wide-range authorities to arrest and detain people on a precautionary basis. In light of an authorization from the Deputy Martial Ruler, and according to the rules of the Law underlying the State of Emergency, the Deputy Martial Ruler may issue written orders for interrogating suspects or persons, who pose a threat to security and order, and for detaining these persons as a precautionary measure, according to Article (4)/ Clause (a) of the State of Emergency Law”.
The same article maintains that it is up to the Deputy Martial Ruler, who controls internal and external organs of the State Security, to designate any person to carry out any task.
Although “all internal and external Security Authorities are at the disposal of the Martial Ruler”, Security Forces carry out tasks which are not within his domain of supervision. It follows then that Security men’s actions are not totally within the framework of the Martial Ruler’s responsibility. In fact, it is not clear how far Security groups are subject to control by Interior and Defense Ministers. Yet, reports received indicate that in theory they report to both ministers through whom they also are supposed to report to the Martial Ruler.
In practice, Security Divisions report only to the President of the Republic through the Republic Presidency Security Council. This Council, which is headed by the President of the Republic, seems to be the method through which Security Divisions commanders receive their orders from the President of the Republic or submit their reports to him.
Security Forces in Syria now have many networks which entitle them to have such authorities. Each of these Forces have their own branches, detention cells, interrogation centres and intelligence organs spread throughout the country.
Amnesty International Organization has information about the following major Security Forces:
Revolution’s Defense Companies: Established in 1971 and headed by Rif’at Al-Asad. These companies consist of 15,000 – 25,000 men whose main task is to protect the President of the Republic, current Regime, and revolution.
Special Units: Headed by Ali Haydar and consist of a number of commandos and parachute troops numbering 5,000 – 8,000 men.
General Intelligence: Headed by Najeeh Zreir and it is responsible for collecting and compiling intelligence information, and reports to the Interior Minister.
Military Intelligence: Headed by Brigadier General Ali Douba, collects intelligence information relevant to the Armed Forces and acts accordingly, and reports to the Defense Minister.
Air Force Intelligence: Headed by Brigadier General Mohammad Al-Khouli who chairs the Republic Presidency Council for Security. Its task is similar to that of Military Intelligence but is limited to Air Forces only. It reports to the Defense Minister.
Political Security: Headed by Ahmad Sa’eed Salih to follow up political activity within the State and acts according to the information received. This Force reports to the Interior Minister.
Pan-Arab Security Bureau: Headed by Ahmad Diyab, and the special purpose for establishing this office is not known. It seems that this Force reports to the Republic Presidency Council for Security.
During the 1940s and 1950s, there were only two Forces responsible for Security. Each force has a well-defined specialty and responsibility, and these two forces are:
Military Intelligence: This was a department specialized in Armed Forces Intelligence, and used to report directly to the Defense Minister.
Political Security Division: Specialized in monitoring civil political opposition and used to report to the Interior Minister.
The Special Forces and their operations and specializations have increased and become overlapping in many cases since the 1970s. It is not now easy to track these Forces’ line of responsibility to the higher State levels.
After 1963, some Security Forces started reporting directly to the Martial Ruler such as the State Security which has been named “General Intelligence” since 1971. This division’s task was to start monitoring and collecting information. However, other divisions used to report to the President of the Republic alone. In the early 1970s, the Revolution’s Defense Companies came into existence, and these are elite guards responsible for protecting the President of the Republic, the present regime, and the revolution. These guards are led by Rif’at Al-Asad, brother of the President of the Republic. The “Special Units” were simultaneously formed under Ali Haydar’s Leadership and include a number of military commandos and parachutists.
New forces seemed to have been formed during the 1970s along with the already existing ones and became more influential in light of the greater freedom of action they enjoyed according to the State of Emergency. The leaders of the new forces became more independent and less controlled by the authorities in light of their original terms of service.
There seems to be no clear distinction between the different security forces. Thus, Air Forces Intelligence which used to report to President Al-Asad (who was then Air Forces Commander before he became President of the Republic) now play a prominent role in arresting civil political opponents. Their leader: Brigadier General Mohammad Al-Khouli is the present Director of the Republic Presidency for Security. Likewise, Military Intelligence activities were not limited to the Armed Forces affairs, but extended beyond that to arresting and interrogating forbidden political parties members. Their influence expanded after April 1980 and included members of medical and engineering associations. By the same token, Defense Companies whose first headquarters were in Damascus in order to protect the President of the Republic carried out activities which extended as far as Aleppo during the homes inspection campaign in March 1980. They were said to have taken part in the Tadmur Prison Slaughter in June 1980. Syrians and foreign observers maintain that the Defense Companies (Saraya Difa’) are not subject to Law and that they only report to Rif’at Al-Asad, brother of the President of the Republic. Amnesty International Organization has been informed that some members of the well trained members of the Defense Companies (Saraya Difa’) are now sent abroad on a periodical basis in order to keep track of the activities undertaken by Syrian political opponents in exile, and contain such activities through harassments or violence.
The Security Forces’ increased specializations and expanded framework of their freedom along with the apparent absence of direct supervision over their activities led to successive and recurrent reports on their abused authorities.
Reports involved also wide-scale repressive arrests, disrespect for detainees’ rights and imprisonment for long periods of time without trial. Reports coming from Syria over the past few years involved Security Forces’ violation of human rights including torturing, missing and executing of some detainees by authorities which are not of a judicial nature.
B. Places of Detention
Places of detention is Syria vary from simple homes or certain floors within some homes to large institutions which can accommodate more than one thousand prisoners:
Official Civil Prisons.
Official Military Prisons.
Detention Centers for Interrogation.
Cells at the Police Stations.
Security Forces Cells and Buildings.
Temporary Detention Places.
Syria is divided into (12) governorates; and these are: Damascus, Aleppo, Hims, Hamah, Idlib, Raqqah, Tartoos, Dir’a, Suwayda’, Latakia, Deir Al-Zoor, and AL-Hasakah.
Each Governorate has at least one civil prison, a State Security Prison, and a Military Prison. As far as Amnesty International Organization knows, there are at least two prisons for women: Qatanah Prison in Damascus, and Rastan Prison in Hims. Besides, there are many other places for detention such as Police Cells and Detention Centers, Military Barracks, and Security Forces Buildings. When certain areas of some cities were besieged and subjected to home-by-home inspections (which were repeatedly carried out over the past three years), certain places were used for detaining the arrested people such as: schools, educational and cultural centers, factories, sports playgrounds, and camps set up by the army.
The largest two population centers in Syria are Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo. Amnesty International Organization has received many reports since 1979 on detaining political prisoners in these two cities within the following prisons and detention centers:
Mazzeh Military Prison.
Qal’ah Civil Prison.
State Security Qassa’ Prison.
Kafr Soumah Prison.
Qatanah Women Prison.
Sheikh Hassan Prison.
Qaboon Detention Center (Military Intelligence).
Halabouni Prison (Military Branch No. 285).
Saraya Difa’ (Defense Companies) Detention Center.
Rawdha Detention Center.
Political Security Detention Center.
Air Force Intelligence Detention Center.
Special Units Detention Center.
State Security Civil Prison.
State Security Military Prison.
Central Civil Prison.
Military Intelligence Branch.
Artillery School (of Ramoosah).
Hananu Barracks (Military Police).
Political Security Branch.
When the third division of the Syrian Army besieged Aleppo City between March and April 1980, and inspected some parts of the city through Security Forces, the following places were known to have been used as detention centers:
The Party’s Branch.
Al-Qal’ah (Special Units).
Directorate of Education Center.
The following schools were also used as detention centers:
Al-Hikmah School near Ogareth.
C. Coercive Detentions:
Security Forces have arrested and detained thousands of Syrians since declaring the State of Emergency in 1963. During the 2-year period from January 1980 to Dec. 1981, Amnesty International Organization compiled names of some 3,500 persons who were said to have been arrested and detained by Security Forces. This is not the number of all detainees in this period, but only of those whose names were brought to the Organization’s attention.
According to the Law underlying the State of Emergency, the Deputy Martial Ruler is responsible for arresting any person suspected of constituting a threat to public security and order in the State. The Deputy Martial Ruler is responsible for ordering the detention of such persons as a preventive imprisonment measure or by sending them to a Military Court or referring them to the State Security Court for trial. According to detention procedures indicated in the Law on the Principles of Penal Trials, a detained person is allowed to have access to the Detention Memo and also keep a copy of this memo except in cases of committing a visible offense. In such cases, any attending person can detain anyone who committed an offense and take him immediately to the Prosecutor General’s Office or to one of his assistants.
In most cases which were reported to Amnesty International Organization, no detainee was practically presented with any order or memo when he was arrested. But there were only few cases in which the Organization was informed by former detainees that they were shown a list including their names. However, this occurred while such detainees were being interrogated and not at the moment of their arrest. The Organization believes that details of detentions carried out by the various local branches of the Security Forces were not sent directly to any central authority for official approval. In fact, sending such details was delayed for weeks perhaps months in many cases.
Thus, cases of coercive arrests and denial of detainees’ rights increased as a result of the absence of any disciplinary action against Security Forces men for arresting any suspect at anytime they wish and without referring to a central authority. It has been brought to the attention of Amnesty International Organization that when Security Forces could not arrest suspects, relatives were arrested instead of the suspects. For instance, Mahmoud Kasha, a merchant from Aleppo, was detained in May 1980 and remained detained at a military prison in Aleppo for (21) days. In the meantime, Security Forces were searching for his brother. Moreover, in mid Oct. 1980, Mrs. Asma Al-Faisal, wife of Riyadh Al-Turk and mother of two children/ 1st Secretary of the banned Communist Party Politburo. She was arrested when Syrian Security Forces started arresting the prominent members of that party, and remained hostage until her husband was arrested on 28th Nov. 1980.
It is frequently the case that when a suspect has left Syria, then one or two of his closest relatives will be arrested in order to force the suspect to return to Syria. In Dec. 1974, Hamoud Qabbani, Minister of Planning from Sept. 1967 until Oct. 1968 and Information Minister from June 1969 until the coup of Nov. 1970, was arrested in June 1971 for refusing to cooperate with the new government. He happened to have escaped from the Military Hospital affiliated with the Mazzeh Prison in Damascus and left for Iraq. Immediately after this, seven people of his relatives (Riyadh, Zuheir, Anees, Kamal, Jihad, Farhan, and Adel Qabbani) were arrested and remained within the single-cell prison of Mazzeh for the first three months. Despite their denial of any participation in Hamoud Qabbani’s escape from prison, the first four relatives remained imprisoned without trial until Oct. 1975, and the other three relatives until 1980.
In June 1980, and while the Military Intelligence were searching for someone called Abdul Jaleel who escaped to Iraq, Security Forces arrested his four brothers Abdul Aziz, Qasim, Abdul Majeed, and Salah. But his brothers were transferred from Al-Qal’ah Prison in Damascus and nobody knows where they are now.
Amnesty International Organization received complaints from detainees’ relatives about the so-called mass punishments, in which family members of detained suspects are held and detained without trial, tortured and sometimes executed.
These aforementioned violations constitute an aggression against the Syrian Law, especially the following articles of the State Constitution:
Article 25 (1): Freedom is a holy right, and the State will guarantee citizens’ personal freedom, dignity and security.
Article 28 (2): It is impermissible to interrogate or detain anyone unless that is done according to Law.
Such aggression also involves the following two articles of the Syrian Penal Code:
Article 357: Each and every employee who detained or imprisoned a person in cases not indicated by Law will be punished by temporary hard labour.
Article 358: &nbs