The Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC) has learnt that the Syrian regime has, in the past few days, released a number of female prisoners held in prison since the beginning of the revolution along with some imprisoned from before. It has been recorded that approximately 60 female prisoners have been released on two occasions till now.
The names of those released are among the names of 128 female prisoners in a list announced as part of the Lebanese captives exchange with the “North Storm Brigade”. A statement released by the Brigade yesterday mentioned that 62 female prisoners were released, and that they hope for the release of the remaining female prisoners shortly.
Among those released was the blogger Tal al-Malouhi, arrested since 2009, the two activist sisters Ghada Subhi al-Abbar and Sawsan al-Abbar, and the media activist Warda Suleiman.
Those released till now include: Ibtisam Othman Hamza (Douma), Areej Ali al-Homsi (al-Sheikh Masakin), Is’aaf Ahmed Abu Omar (Yalda), Iqbal Yusuf Satout (Damascus), Ilham Mahmoud Nazaal, Amani Mahmoud Abu Jawz (Saqba), Amani Mustafa Abu Adaan (Arbeen), Amani Muwafaq Nakhla (al-Moadamiyah), Aamina Mohamed Abdul Wahab (Latakkia), Aamina Mahmoud Hamdan Sawan (rural Damascus), Iman Mohamed Jameel Samaaq (Damascus), Bushra Hasan Suleiman (Yabroud), Hanan Mohammed Deeb Shamsideen (Tarablus), Khadija Abdullah Khalil (Palestinian), Dunya Waheeb al-Rifa’I (Damascus), Ranya Marwan Abdul-Wahab, Raneem Mohsin Qaramu (Idlib), Riham Abdul Ghani al-Mulla (Douma), Rawshan Basheer al-Masri (Damascus), Raw’a al-Zo’bi, Reem Barmawi, Reema Isa al-Saman (Damascus), Zahiya Mohammed Dharif Ahmed (Aleppo), Zainab A’joob, Su’ad Ridwan Falees (Damascus), Salima Marwan Abdul Wahab, Samira Yusuf Ibrahim, Safa Quteit (Damascus), Tal al-Malouhi, Aisha Rashid Awda (Homs) Itaab Mohammed al-Shibli (al-Moadamiya), Ghadeer al-Ilyan (As-Suweida), Fatima Mohsin al-Salih (Aleppo), Fatima Mohammed Ibrahim (Hama), Fatima Mar’I (Damascus), Fayiza Ahmed Fustuq (Damascus), Fidaa’ Abdullah Bakr (Deir Salman), Lana Barmada (Aleppo), Lamia Adnan al-Halabi (Homs), Lina al-Ahmed, Mary Joseph Abeed (Latakkia), Mazina Abdul-Wahid al-Khudrawi (Jobar), Marwa al-‘Ameed, Manal Hamd Awad (al-Sanamein), Muna Mahmoud al-Shibli (al-Moadamiya), Maha Farhan Mahmoud (Damascus), Mayyada Lutfi al-Hameed (Al-Hasaka), Nour Attiya Musa (Palestinian), Nour Mohamed Na’eem Falees (Damascus), Nour Nidaal (Aleppo- Palestinian), Hiba Saysaan, Hana Mohammed Ghazala (Latakkia), Haya Ali Khalifa (Daraa), Hiyam Yusuf Abu Shaheen (Kafr Shams), Hayna ‘Ataa Miftaah (Palestinian), Warda Suleiman (Damascus), Wafa Ayaash al-Mohamed, Wafa Mohamed Ali Antabli (Damascus), Walaa Ahmed Isaam al-Rifa’I (Damascus), Wahiba Fareed Hamoud (Saqba) and Yusra Ridwan al-Ramadan (Hama).
The Case of the Lebanese Prisoners
The case of the Lebanese prisoners began in the area of I’zaaz in rural Aleppo on 28/5/2013, when the North Storm Brigade (which is in control of the town) stopped a bus which was carrying them. Sources from the kidnappers said that they were Hizbollah Officers, whilst Lebanese and Iranian sources said they were pilgrims returning from Iraq.
On 14/8/2013, news reported that four from those kidnapped were killed, after the Syrian air force launched an air raid on the city of ‘Izaaz, striking the place in which it was said that they were being held.
On 9/8/2013 it was announced in Beirut that a Turkish pilot and his assistant were kidnapped by a group that remained unknown, even after their release.
At the beginning of September 2013, the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) announced war on the Northern Storm Brigade (NS), and attacked the town of ‘Izaaz specifically, without giving any clear reason for their attack on this brigade out of all brigades present in Syria. It was believed at that time that the Brigade was striving to gain control of the Salamah Crossing at the Syrian-Turkish Borders. However, ISIL- after gaining control of the town- accepted negotiations concerning the control of the crossing whilst not showing any readiness to negotiate in anything concerning the Brigade.
ISIL’s operation resulted in the end of the power of NS Brigade in ‘Izaaz, and forced it to remove the Lebanese prisoners to Turkish land. As a result, they fell into custody of the Turkish authorities from 15/10/2013, according to those released among the Lebanese.
Without any previous notice, the completion of a Lebanese prison swap was announced on 19/10/2013 via Qatari mediation, whereby nine Lebanese prisoners were exchanged for the Turkish pilot and his assistant. It was also announced that the swap includes the release of 128 female prisoners from Syrian prisons, and that they will arrive in Turkey along with the arrival of the Turkish pilot and his assistant. But the arrival of the Turks released without Syrian prisoners dashed hopes in this regard.
On 21/10/2013, and after increasing accusations that the NS Brigade undertook the swap in exchange for a material sum from the Qatari mediators, the NS Brigade announced on its facebook page that the deal for the swap had been reached on 14/10/2013 with the attendance of the leader of “Tawhid Brigade” Abdul Qadir al-Salih and a Turkish mediator. The facebook announcement stated that the sides (which were not named) had agreed to release 111 female prisoners in addition to the Turkish pilot and his assistant in exchange for 3 Lebanese prisoners. And this was the first stage of the agreement. The agreement would then be finalised with the release of the remaining 6 Lebanese prisoners in exchange for 212 Syrian prisoners in Syrian jails. However, according to the statement, ISIL’s occupation of most of the Brigade’s territory resulted in the handover of all the Lebanese prisoners to the mediators.
The mechanism underlying the agreement remains unknown, as well as the reason for the delay in the release of the female prisoners and how the mediators handed over the Lebanese prisoners before the conditions of the swap were fulfilled. The reason for the Syrian regime’s adherence to the agreement even after the release of the Lebanese prisoners also remains unknown, which suggests that there were other provisions to the swap which were not announced.
What is striking is that the exchange deal has not received any clarifications from all parties concerned except the clarifications announced by the NS Brigade, which appears to be the weaker party after ISIL gained control over most of its positions in ‘Izaaz. And the Turkish and Qatari politicians provided no statements to clarify the contents of the agreement and its stages.
Female Prisoners in the Syrian Regime Prisons
The full number of female prisoners in the Syrian regime prisons is not accurately known, as all male and female prisoners were subject to arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances from the beginning of the Syrian revolution. No arrest warrants are issued against them, nor are they given accusations or presented to court (except in rare cases in which they are presented to the terrorism court without any adherence or consideration to law), and in most cases their place of detention is unknown as well as the authority which arrested them. As a result, having a precise number for male and female prisoners is an impossible task.
However, estimations indicate that the number of female prisoners exceeds 8000, whilst the number of male prisoners is estimated to be around 150,000. It is clear that the Syrian regime is imprisoning and targeting more women in order to force male activists from within their relatives to reveal themselves or stop their opposition activities, due to the issue of female arrest being a very sensitive one within Syrian society.
It is said that most female prisoners in Syrian regime prisons are not active in opposition activities , and that most were kidnapped as hostages due to the activities of relatives close to them.
The current exchange process should remind people of the issue of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances in Syria: an issue which bears the brunt of all other issues- including that of extrajudicial killings and displacement- due to its social and psychological dimensions, as well as its legal harshness on the kidnappers, those kidnapped, and their families.
This process also reveals the enormity of the Syrian regime’s links to foreign groups, as- for the second time- it releases Syrian prisoners in exchange for foreign prisoners (Lebanese in this transaction, and Iranians in the swap which took place on 9/1/2013). This is while the Syrian regime rejects exchange swaps for its high ranking officers which are loyal to the regime.
The international community is called upon to exert more pressure for an end to the wide ranging human rights violations taking place in Syria, as well as to pressurise the Syrian regime to release more prisoners and the need to include this item in any proposed political solution. It will not be possible to move to the stage of transitional justice without first solving the problem of enforced disappearances and its legal and social effects.
Syrian Human Rights Committee