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Falsification of justice … How does the Syrian regime legalize its violations against detainees?

18 min read, 2020

Many of us believe that the regime operates like any other gang or militia that is out of touch with the practice of arrest and enforced disappearance. This is true at the level of the direct relationship that the regime has established in the face of its citizens who are opposed or questioned of their loyalty to it. But behind this there is an interconnected system of laws and legislation, and a network of state security, judicial and civil institutions that work in various ways to cover most of these crimes with false legitimacy. This investigation examines the hypothesis that the Syrian regime has millions of official / fabricated documents with which it can defend its practices when the accounting clock strikes at any time in the future.

In mid-2012, the head of the Military Security Branch in Deir Ezzor at the time, Major General Jameh Jameh, sent a package of documents to extend the blank detention to the attorney general in the city, asking him to sign it.

The lawyer refused to sign and asked the general for detailed information about the detainees in his branch, in order to decide who deserves to extend the detention and who should be released according to what the law stipulates.

Days later, members of the aforementioned branch fired at the lawyer’s house and his car, intentionally not to injure him. The next day, the man brought the empty bullets to his office in the court and showed them to a group of his colleagues, saying, “I have received this message.”

Among those present was the judge, Ibrahim Hussein, who narrated the story as the story unfolded. Later, the heads of the regime’s security branches became accustomed to the presence of quantities of detention extension documents previously signed by the Public Prosecution and available to add to them the names of whom they wanted detainees with, and with the dates they specified.

Militia or regime?
Many of us believe that the regime operates like any other gang or militia that is out of touch with the practice of arrest and enforced disappearance. This is true at the level of the direct relationship that the regime has established in the face of its citizens who are opposed or questioned of their loyalty to it. But behind this there is an interconnected system of laws and legislation, and a network of state security, judicial and civil institutions that work in various ways to cover most of these crimes with false legitimacy, trying to show them as measures that any state can take against its citizens outside the law.

This investigation examines the hypothesis that the Syrian regime has millions of official / fabricated documents with which it can defend its practices when the accounting clock strikes at any time in the future.

The investigation is based on the results of the investigation of 100 cases of detention carried out by the regime’s apparatus since 2011, focusing on the legal path that each of them went through. The opinions of Syrian experts, including judges, lawyers and doctors, are guided to explain these paths and to understand the way in which the security and judicial system works to manage the detention operations and the violations accompanying them institutionally, and to cover them legally. The investigation also deals with questions about the gaps that the regime fails to cover, and which can be an entry point to refute its falsification of justice.

‘Criminal’ laws
Syrian lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, who specializes in detainee cases, used the term “criminal laws” in an interview with the Syrian newspaper, Enab Baladi, to describe a set of laws and legislation that the Syrian regime uses to cover the violation of the basic rights of its citizens. According to legal experts, the story of the legislation being used to cover violations in Syria is old.

The Ba’ath Party regime inherited a set of laws from the coup regimes that preceded it in governing Syria, most notably the Judicial Authority Law of 1961, which destroyed the independence of the judiciary by placing the President of the Republic as Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council.

The system expanded the jurisdiction of the military judiciary to include all that the court deems within its jurisdiction. Of course, there is also the anti-terrorism law, which is famous for its broad provisions “that can transform any action I have taken into a crime of terrorism,” as described by the human rights defender and dissident judge Ibrahim Hussein.

However, the regime worked to develop more “criminal” laws during the following decades, according to former judge Anwar Majni, who defected from the regime in mid-2012 in protest against “the executive authority’s intrusion of the judiciary” and today works as a legal advisor in the Turkish city of Gaziantep.

“As soon as the Baath Party took power, it imposed a state of emergency that suspended the constitution, and its law formed the broadest umbrella in covering human rights violations from 1963 until April of 2011..During those years, the laws of exceptional courts were enacted as a court,” says Majni to the story of what happened. The Military Field and the State Security Court, in addition to the law creating the state security apparatus and fortifying its members from prosecution, as there are more than one law that prohibits any legal case against members of the security services without the approval of the Director of the General Intelligence Department in some cases, or the approval of the Minister of Defense in others. That is, you will not be able to pursue the younger criminal without the consent of the greater criminal.

The final chapter of that story came after the outbreak of protests in Syria in 2011, when the regime, as a result of internal and external pressures, was forced to lift the state of emergency and cancel the state security court associated with it. In the following months, however, he enacted a series of new decrees and legislation in place, the most prominent of which was delegating the functions of the judicial police to the security and intelligence services associated with the National Security Bureau, those same agencies that had immunized their elements against previous prosecution.

At the same time, the system expanded the jurisdiction of the military judiciary to include whatever the court deems within its jurisdiction. Of course, there is also the anti-terrorism law, which is famous for its broad provisions “that can turn any action I have taken into a crime of terrorism,” as described by the human rights defector and dissident judge Ibrahim Hussein in a phone interview with him.

Eight entities constitute a detention and cover-up system
All of these changes enabled the system to have an executive power that is delegated to the functions of the judicial police, which is immune to prosecution, and not subject to the authority of the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice, or even the Interior. This force mainly included the four intelligence services that are actually affiliated with the National Security Bureau, which are: Military Security, Air Force Intelligence, Political Security, General Intelligence, or what is known as State Security, and each of those agencies, of course, has dozens of branches distributed in Syrian cities.

The aforementioned laws secured a judicial umbrella for these security agencies through four judicial institutions separate from each other in administrative and legal terms, and deeply intertwined in terms of jurisdiction.

In addition to the regular judiciary, which has been kept away from dealing with detainees in connection with the protests and their consequences after its first year, there is a military court before which civilians are tried, and there are two exceptional courts, the aforementioned Terrorism Cases Court, and also the Military Field Court, or as Syrians call it, the “military execution” court, which Often referred to detainees classified as more dangerous to the regime.

In addition to the regular judiciary, which has been kept away from dealing with detainees in connection with the protests and their consequences after its first year, there is a military court before which civilians are tried, and there are two exceptional courts, which are the aforementioned Terrorism Cases Court, and also the Military Field Court, or as Syrians call it, the “military execution” court, which Often referred to detainees classified as more dangerous to the regime.

The work of the eight aforementioned entities and others combined together, and formed what could be called the detention and coverage system, which the regime has effectively occupied since the first year of the protests, until prominent human rights bodies (including the Syrian Network for Human Rights) estimated the number of Syrians who were arrested during the past nine years at about 1.2 million detainees And arrested. How does this system work?

How does the detention and cover system work?
The relationship of hegemony imposed by the security services on the Public Prosecution Office, and behind it the judiciary, is the intention of that system. “It is what enabled these agencies to detain citizens and ban them from the judicial authority first, and secondly to extend the periods of detention under investigation for months and even years without violating the law. From a formal point of view, it finally enabled it to determine the type of trials that detainees are subjected to and their results, ”according to dissident judge Ibrahim Hussein, who adds:“ In the end, there is no oversight of any kind over what the security services are doing, and their actual authority is higher than that of the ministries that follow It has the authority of the judiciary, and any junior officer in the security apparatus can threaten or insult a judge without consequences. ”

University student Sahar Zaatar (25 years) was arrested at a checkpoint known as Al-Ramoussa checkpoint in Aleppo, for her participation in anti-regime protests inside the university. This happened in late 2014, but it took about six months, during which she traveled between the military security branches from Aleppo to Homs and then Damascus, until she was referred to the Terrorism Cases Court in Damascus. While she required the issuance of a verdict in her case for another year until she survived in mid-2016. Sahar tells the story of what it was told: “I was lucky. I was sentenced to one year in prison for covering up criminals and I got out after that because I had spent more than that period in prison .. Payment My expatriate brother in Saudi Arabia is a big bribe that wiped out his savings, but I saw women whose families paid twice what we paid and it did not work out with them..Once you are arrested, the whole matter turns into a stroke of luck, and you have neither guarantees nor rights.

Of the 100 cases of investigation in this investigation, only 44 were referred to the judiciary, while ten cases were released directly from the grip of the security services, often after bribes were paid to officers and officials in the regime.

On the other side, however, there were still 46 detainees who had not been referred to trial until the date of interviewing their relatives in March 2020. At that time, the most recent of them had been in detention for nearly four years.

These are now the forcibly disappeared persons according to international law, with an increase in the fact that all of these families have made sure in one way or another that the detainee is somewhere in the system.

The brother of one of those arrested since 2011 tells the story that he is desperate to search for his brother Muhammad (33 years), who comes from the city of eastern Aleppo. “Two years after his arrest at a checkpoint in the Latakia countryside, we were able to visit him in the Military Police prison in Damascus .. I still keep the visit paper to this day … but I lost my brother’s trace after that.”

Muhammad is still unknown until the date of this interview, and his family talk about different methods of covering the arrest of their son, comparing it to a “black hole” that swallows up every trace of the detainees.

About forty-four detainees
“When it comes to transferring to the court, the decision is simply in the hands of the head of the security branch in which the detainee is located, as for the Public Prosecution here, it has no role but to sign.” This is what he says to a story about what a lawyer who worked until recently in the defense of detainees inside Syria preferred His name is not mentioned.

The lawyer explains that the heads of the security branches often take the decision based on their assessment of the degree of danger that the detainee may pose to the system, and this also determines which court the detainee will be referred to.

Behind the decision of the responsible officer plays a complex network of factors, including the power of mediations that the detainee’s family can harness and the amount of bribes that they can pay, and the region from which the detainee comes and his ethnic and religious background play a role as well, and certainly the factors of the officers ’moods and their degree of militancy are involved.

Behind the decision of the responsible officer is playing a complex network of factors, including the power of mediations that can be harnessed by the detainee’s family and the amount of bribes that they can pay. The region from which the detainee comes from and his ethnic and religious background play a role as well. Certainly the factors of the officers ’moods and the degree of their strictness are involved

Ibrahim Hussein also tells us that “every detainee that the regime refers to the judiciary has completely covered his legal detention.” The law in question here is not the law that protects the detainee, but rather the law that protects the security man when he commits his violations.

Of the 44 cases that have been referred to the judiciary, it appears that the arrest extension document previously signed by the Public Prosecution may cover the detention of half of those who were referred to the judiciary within two months or less from the date of their arrest, as Syrian law stipulates that the judicial police can detain persons pending investigation for a period Maximum of two months with the approval of the Public Prosecution.

On the other hand, there are 22 other cases that were referred to trial after detention periods that lasted more than two months, including those that reached three years, so how were these covered?

Delay in referring detainees to the judiciary for months and years
In fact, there are many other methods used by the security services to circumvent the law or play in the space between the text and the application to extend detention periods, according to Ibrahim Hussein, for example delaying the opening of security checks.

“A person can spend months in the branch without the security branch opening formal arrest by arresting him and referring him to the Public Prosecution, this is what enables them to manipulate the dates and make them in compliance with the law. In other cases, release papers are signed and then re-arrested pending a new investigation, often in a different security branch … without actually releasing the detainee.

To this end, the words of the former judge can be linked to the movement of movements between security branches that the majority of detainees seem to pass through. Of the 44 detainees, 36 said that they passed through more than one security branch during their detention, and on average, each of them visited four security branches.

This means that the detention without trial can be justified for a period of up to eight months, without the security branches up to this point in violation of the law formally. Given that there are within the cases of investigation of those who have passed through more than four security branches, the scope of legal coverage can extend for longer and longer periods.

At the end of that ordeal, and among the 44 investigation cases, 31 detainees were referred to the Terrorism Cases Court in Damascus, after its establishment in 2012, it became the first destination for the majority of detainees against the background of anti-regime protests. The Syrian Center for Legal Studies estimates the number of detainees and wanted persons whose files were referred to the Terrorism Court until the end of 2014 at about one hundred thousand citizens. While nine others were referred to the regular judiciary, and these were most likely arrested during 2011 and before the establishment of the terrorism court.

Finally, four cases were referred to the Military Court, three of them civilians. Among all the investigation cases, we did not encounter anyone who was referred to the Military Field Court, most likely not because of the few referred to it, but rather the few survivors, which we will talk about in a later paragraph.

Much has been written about the extent of the unfairness of the Syrian regime’s trials, whether by international organizations or human rights defenders, and we will not repeat the matter here. In the end, these trials are nothing but an extension of the security treatment with opponents or those suspected of opposing them, but we will focus on two points here, namely: on what Trials are based? What do you end up with?

Unidentified papers signed by the detainees
Haitham Hassou, 35, was arrested at a checkpoint at the entrance to the city of Raqqa in early 2013, while he was returning from Turkey to his city, Qamishli. Weeks later, he was transferred to the Palestine Branch of Air Force Intelligence in Damascus, and he was transferred from him to the Terrorism Court after four months, during which his family made many efforts and money until he survived.

The young man describes, to the story of what it plunged, the morning of the day he was taken to trial, “They brought me into an empty room except from a large table in the middle. They forced me to kneel on my knees in front of the table and put a stack of papers in front of me asking to be fingerprinted .. I think it reached thirty papers .. The security agent was passing them quickly in front of me, barely enough to put my fingerprint to where he was pointing. I was not able to read any of those papers and could not help but print, everyone does. ”

To this day, Haitham does not know which papers bear his mark in the archives of the Palestine Branch, and he is not the only one, as many of the survivors of the security branches long talk about their fondness for papers, papers that rarely attract attention in the context of the stories of detainees. But do we really know what it is?

To this day, Haitham does not know which papers bear his mark in the archives of the Palestine Branch, and he is not the only one, as many of the survivors of the security branches long talk about their fondness for papers, papers that rarely attract attention in the context of the stories of detainees. But do we really know what it is?

Our source, who preferred not to be named, says, “The archives of the security services are enormous, in which innocent people turn into terrorists and killers only on paper. Most of the detainees sign confessions of crimes and terrorist acts they did not commit, and declarations that they had not been subjected to torture and ill-treatment, for example, or pledges not to engage in specific activities.

Except for these explanations, we don’t know much about what the security services archives hide. But of course, we know that it forms the basis for trials and takes them as unquestionable evidence. Perhaps this explains how 90% of cases in the terrorism court, for example, are automatically transferred from investigative judges to criminal judges, according to the source.

Investigation data supports the source’s assertion. Of the 44 cases, investigative judges released only four of them, while all of the rest were referred to criminal judges.

The data also shows that 23 of those referred to the courts obtained in one way or another a release order under trial, and all of them left the country or left the regime-controlled areas after that.

Haitham was one of them, and he told us that “being released means giving the detainee a chance to escape by himself, and it is an opportunity that only someone who has a family who pays mediations and money can get, and for me as soon as I stepped outside the prison gate, my decision was very clear .. I will not go back to this place. Whatever it costs me, ”he said.

Today, Haitham lives in Germany and works as a postman, although he has university degrees. He cannot return to regime-controlled areas in the country, and so is the case with all those who were released under trial.

As for the number of those who were convicted, they were nine, with sentences ranging from one year to life imprisonment.

The conviction itself is not the worst that could happen to the detainees. The worst thing is that the file remains stuck in court for months and years, so the families of detainees resort to buying convictions, as they are the only way out when the issue of release is not possible.

But the conviction itself is not the worst that could happen to the detainees. The worst thing is that the file remains stuck in court for months and years, so the families of detainees resort to buying convictions, as they are the only way out when the issue of release is not possible.

One of the investigation cases, who was arrested in Homs, he remained imprisoned for five years pending trial until he paid a bribe of four thousand dollars to the judge in charge of his file in the Terrorism Court to issue a conviction against him and a penalty equal to the period he spent in detention. As for the remaining eight cases, only five of them received a acquittal, while three others remained under trial.

All these referrals, decisions, and judicial rulings leave dozens of official legal documents left behind for every detainee, and as a result, the regime today has, at the very least, hundreds of thousands of signed confessions, in which the detainees admit to committing crimes and terrorist acts, and there are tens of thousands of cases and judicial rulings against them at the very least. Add to that the security seizure documents and the evidence and testimonies fabricated in them, but these are not all the papers that the regime has prepared for any possible course of justice.

About forty-six forcibly disappeared
“He is alive and in good health, and he is present in the Military Security Branch in the city of Aleppo.”

“After we held a funeral, one of the people came back and told us that Ahmed is still alive in the Air Force Intelligence branch in Damascus.”

“He died under torture in a year since 2014.”

“He was referred to the Military Field Court and sentenced to 15 years in prison and is in Sednaya prison .. which is not confirmed news.”

These are examples of the responses of members of the families of the forcibly disappeared persons when asked about the latest information they know about their children. Nothing is certain for them except that the sons were detained by the regime, and that the latter refuses to acknowledge their existence.

The violations in the case of these detainees appear to be unable to cover, and this constitutes an important gap in the legal coverage process followed by the regime, as there is no law that can justify detention and disappearance for years.

But perhaps there is what is happening behind this scene of extreme abuse, and we are talking here about likely roles for the Military Field Court and the regime’s military hospitals in covering up the crimes of enforced disappearance.

The Military Field Court is one of the most dangerous courts in Syria as it is an exceptional court, meaning it is not obligated to follow the Syrian Code of Procedure for Procedure, and is secret at the same time. It remains confidential, from referral to trial to execution of sentences. ” In addition, Judge Anwar Mujni adds, “The regime has previously used this court to cover up the execution of thousands of detainees in Tadmur Military Prison since the 1980s.” Consequently, it is likely that a large proportion of the forcibly disappeared will be referred to that court and sentenced to death without anyone knowing about it.

An Amnesty International report entitled “Syria of the Human Slaughterhouse” explains how the Military Field Court operates in detail. The organization estimated that the number of those sentenced to death between 2011 and 2015 in Sednaya prison alone may reach 13,000 detainees, most of them civilians. The Syrian Center estimates that the number of Syrians whose files were referred to the Military Field Court between 2011 and 2014 amounted to forty thousand people.

Military hospitals played an important role in covering murders as a result of torture and ill-treatment within the security branches by issuing fabricated medical reports attributing death to natural causes. Then those reports are sent to the Civil Records Administration and the person is registered as dead, and the story ends here as the system hopes.

As for the military hospitals, they seem to have played an important role in covering murders as a result of torture and ill-treatment inside the security branches by issuing fabricated medical reports that attribute death to natural causes. Then those reports are sent to the Civil Records Administration and the person is registered as dead, and the story ends here as the system hopes.

Salim Nammour told us in a telephone interview that we conducted with him from his place of residence in France, a doctor who previously worked at Tishreen Military Hospital in Damascus for ten years, that the bodies of the detainees were not transferred to the hospital’s refrigerator without attaching that report, and added, “These reports remain confidential and except for sending Copies of it to the civil records are not allowed to be viewed by anyone ”.

About the scene inside the Tishreen Military Hospital, the doctor tells us, “With the outbreak of the revolution, the hospital’s administration allocated a section to receive detainees who were brought by the security branches to the hospital .. We were not allowed as doctors in the hospital to enter that department, whose staff was carefully selected from among the cadres most loyal to the regime, They, in turn, practiced torture and ill-treatment of the sick and wounded detainees inside their closed sections, and wrote reports of false death reports, so that the bodies would disappear afterwards.

The testimony of Doctor Salim Nammour dates back to the period when protests against the regime began, before he himself was arrested at a demonstration in Damascus and then defected from the regime.

Later years seem to have witnessed other developments. Our source, who preferred not to be named, tells us that with the increase in the number of deaths under torture, the branches no longer send bodies to military hospitals. “There are doctors who visit the security branches periodically to prepare death reports, and then carry them to the hospital, in addition to the official seals and the signature of the hospital director … so neither is anyone who saw or heard.”

Today, a Syrian doctor who previously worked in the Homs Military Hospital is being tried on charges of committing crimes against humanity after he sought refuge in Germany, but there are still tens and perhaps hundreds of doctors in military hospitals who participate in the killing and its coverage.

To keep the door to justice open
Of the 100 investigations, only 18 said they were in possession of documents of any kind that prove they have been arrested. The rest, whether they managed to survive or not, may prove difficult for them in some situation to prove that they were arrested at all if the regime remained in control of the security and judicial institutions and their archives.

In the end, the regime knows that its game is largely exposed. It knows that laws that violate the constitution may not constitute legal protection for it internally, and that national legislation in violation of the international covenants it has signed, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, will not succeed in Maintaining its legitimacy internationally. The question of the feasibility of the entire detention and coverage system that the regime operates depends on what accountability measures the future hides, will there be trials? Will it be local or international? Will it be independent or dominated by the regime, the opposition, or international powers? Even if these trials are held, what the regime is likely betting on is that it is still the most skilled in playing this open game and holding all its tangled strings compared to its opponents, and even if its system does not spare it accountability, it will still be able to obstruct those efforts by slowing it down, misleading and drowning it. Millions of documents.

Source: Syriauntold, a story

Keywords Regime intelligence, Syrian security branches, falsification of justice, legitimization of violations against detainees

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