It constitutes a systematic strategy whereby forced disappearances are used to intimidate society and fund the regime, report says.
Syrian families are forced to pay exorbitant fees for information about or the chance to visit forcibly disappeared relatives in regime prisons, a new report says, calling attention to another dimension of the Syrian regime’s strategies to control society and fund the state.
The latest report by the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison (ADMSP) demonstrates the vast scale of extortion in the prison system, with interviewed families paying a total of nearly $3 million to middlemen, lawyers, government employees, intelligence officers, or Shabiha for promises of information, visit, or release of their relatives.
The report also reveals a source of financing for the regime as Caesar Sanctions target Bashar al Assad’s government for its alleged war crimes against its citizens.
“The data and information provided by the report show that the regime in Syria does not only practice forced disappearance against political opponents, but rather also targets individuals whose families it believes it can collect money from,” said Diab Sariya, co-founder and coordinator of ADMSP.
“This allows it to eventually accumulate wealth and influence for the commanders, chiefs of security services and some influential people in the regime’s government.”
The report is based on over 500 face-to-face interviews with the families of those forcibly disappeared, and constitutes a quantitative examination of the process of enforced detention and disappearance, which “forms a basic pillar in the relationship of the Syrian state with its society.”
Nearly 100,000 people have been forcibly disappeared, and about 1.2 million Syrians have been arrested or detained at some point, primarily by the Syrian regime, since the start of protests in 2011, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
The majority of enforced disappearances took place in Syria’s notorious Sednaya prison, which is described as a “human slaughterhouse” by international rights organisations.
The report calls on the international community to pressure supporters of the Syrian regime, particularly Russia, to reveal the fate of those who were forcibly disappeared, report the places of burial of those who were killed, return bodies to families, and investigate the conditions surrounding their deaths. For those prisoners who are still alive, the report calls for families to be granted permission to visit detainees.
I noticed signs of fear on those around me and was surprised about that after everything that had happened to us. When I shared this with them, one of them asked me: ‘For how long have you been imprisoned? And through which branches have you been?’ When I answered him, he said: ‘You should consider the period you have been imprisoned and the branches that you went through as if you were at your family’s house!... in comparison to what we are going to!’ I felt fear and began praying.
Tens of thousands of people have been tortured and thousands killed while in custody in Sednaya alone. Detention centres are not accessible to international monitors, and death and hospital records are not released.
A report last year found that over 14,000 people had been tortured to death in the Assad regime’s detention centres.