Syrian security forces continue to arrest and detain women and treat them in a humiliating and brutal manner. This is due to the strategic and security-obsessed mentality of those authorities which have shown no sanctity of society but breached and violated, particularly the highly sensitive stature of women in Syrian society.
The women who were detained and abused by the security forces had done no wrong, but to be wives of Syrian political opposition figures, many of whom were forced to live in exile for more than two decades. According to the statistics compiled by the Syrian Human Rights Committee, most of these women had not gained any university or higher education which would have enabled them to indulge into political issues. In fact the majority of the women detained were simple and innocent. Despite this, they were detained, interrogated and were also subject to various forms of psychological and physical abuse in order to achieve certain objectives which may be summarised in the following:
1) To punish these women simply for being spouses of political dissidents to the Syrian regime
2) To punish their husbands and families through their detention and abuse.
3) To get information of the most detailed nature about the local communities and neighbourhoods within which they live, and to find out all they know about other Syrian citizens who live in the same locality.
4) To pressurise them in order to become informants on their families, spouses and neighbours and local communities.
Examples of detained women:
Many Syrian families who had been living in Iraq since the 80s, after being forced to live in exile, many of those tried to return to Syria in the Spring of 2003 fleeing the consequences of the war in Iraq and the ensuing lack of security. However, security authorities arrested all those who tried to cross the border, most of whom were women. SHRC documented the details of those who were detained including Maha Qaraqash, Mayyada Banqasli and Fayza Shihab. Many families refused to release the names and details of their detained women due to the incredible sensitivity of this particular issue from the social aspect.
In April of 2003, Syrian security forces arrested Fathiya Al-Damour on the Syrian-Jordanian border, and was separated from her baby, despite her obtaining a Syrian passport from the Syrian Embassy in Amman who informed her that there was nothing against her in Syria. The same happened to Sawsan Al-Taybani in October 2003, a mother of seven children who had been living with her husband and children in forced exile since 1980.
In the middle of January 2004, Mu’eena Sa’du went through the same inhumane treatment. She also has been living with her husband and nine children in forced exile since 1980. It seems that there is no way but for the lucky women who manage to obtain a Syrian passport and are told that their records contain no implicating details, but to go through the brutal and inhumane process of entering their homelands through the security gateway, where they suffer detention, abuse, incarceration, interrogation as well as psychological and physical pressures, for months on end.
Women stand trial before State Security Courts
Security authorities also detained the two journalist sisters Aziza and Shirine Sibini, who disappeared for a while before their families found out that they had been arrested. They were both tried by the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) who sentenced them to eight months in prison on indictments which were incomprehensible and unclear. News however, revealed that they had revealed fake names used by Intelligence officers to write articles in journals published in a neighbouring country, whose proprietors deal with the Syrian regime. Reports to SHRC confirmed that the two sisters had been subject to abuse and were kept locked up for four months after the expiration of the initially unjust term. And thus stayed in prison for a year until their release on 7/5/2003.
Security and Intelligence authorities did not stop at detaining women, but went further to abusing them and exerting psychological and physical pressure as well as threatening to sexually assault them. None of the detainees fled this treatment, even those held on penal charges awaiting investigation. It has been affirmed, for example, from the interrogation minutes of Amina Al-Alloush, who was charged of committing a penal crime, that she had suffered extreme torture at the hands of the Judge presiding over the investigation, in order to obtain an admission of guilt.
SHRC has confirmed reports that most women who were detained were subject to insults, abuse, humiliation, beating with fists, bats and cable wires and were threatened with torture by the Wheel as well as electrocution and sexual abuse.
Money in exchange for release
SHRC has received confirmed reports that substantial amounts of money or even jewellery were demanded in exchange for the release of detained women. Many families were forced to actually pay the money and jewellery to officers and intelligence personnel to save their mothers, daughters or wives from detention. These practices can only be described as blackmail and no doubt contravene all laws and legislations whether locally or internationally. A Syrian businessman, whose wife was arrested for 6 months following a visit she had made after 20 years, was forced to pay almost two million Syrian Liras ($40,000), in order to save his wife from an inexplicable detention. The same businessman told incredible stories of Syrian Embassy security personnel offering their services to help in exchange for substantial amounts of money. He says that when he told them that they were asking for amounts which he simply couldn’t pay, that their response was that they were merely agents for their masters in the security authorities and other personnel connected to the Presidency Palace. On other occasions, security authorities depended on members of the Syrian community to act as go-betweens and convey verbal messages charging for the release of female relatives.
Preventing women from joining their families
A number of women were prevented, after being released, from rejoining their husbands and children. Many in fact had to pay substantial amounts of money in order to be allowed to rejoin their families, and some of those, were turned back at the borders by the security forces, and another round of investigations was initiated with them. A number of those who were prevented from rejoining their families lost their right to enter the countries where their husbands and children lived, due to the expiration of their resident visas, and their children who had accompanied them lost out on their schooling and education. A number of women attempted to appeal to personnel who carried significant authority; some succeeded after paying bribes whilst others failed.
Syrian customs reject the detention of women
SHRC received numerous reports confirming that many families do not disclose information regarding the detention of their female relatives due to the extreme embarrassment this matter causes the entire family. SHRC had contacted a Syrian citizen to check on the condition of his mother who had been detained for more than a month, and was shocked to learn that his family had kept this matter a secret from him, due to extreme sensitivity of this matter. This person suffered, as a result, a serious psychological condition as a result of his mother’s detention, despite her being a very simple and totally innocent woman. Also, and as a result of the great embarrassment this causes, others denied that their female relatives had been arrested, despite all reports confirming the arrest.
SummarySHRC considers detaining women a serious and dangerous violation of human rights, as these women had done nothing wrong and had not committed any illegal activity. Also, they had never practiced politics and thus cannot be held under Emergency Laws which have governed Syria for more than four decades. Indeed, these women are mostly innocent individuals who had suffered the troubles and difficulties of exile and striving for a decent living for themselves and their families. When the regime allowed some to return and their local Syrian Embassies issued them with new passports –of which they had been deprived for almost quarter of a century, and were assured that there was nothing to prevent them from visiting their homeland in peace, they found themselves at the mercy of security forces at the very first border point, who treated them in an inhumane and humiliating manner both physically and psychologically, in their pursuit to obtain every shred of detail regarding their families, friends, and society, and threaten them with sexual abuse and rape.