A recent survey shows widespread insecurity among Syrians living in the Assad regime-controlled territories.
Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad won a landslide election victory in May by claiming 95 percent of Syrian votes to clinch his 4th presidential term. The elections were seen as rigged by most democratic governments and credible election monitors across the world.
But inside Syria, anger and desperation are brewing against the Assad regime, a new study conducted by Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity (SACD) shows.
The SACD is a civil rights group established by Syrian refugees who live in various countries such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. At least 75 percent of respondents to its latest survey are “dissatisfied with the regime’s behaviour.”
The study was conducted through interviews with more than 500 people living in regime-controlled territories across Syria. The Syrian regime controls approximately 60 percent of the country while the US-backed YPG, which is part of the PKK terror group, rules much of northeastern Syria. Idlib, a northwestern province, is still controlled by the Syrian opposition.
The Assad regime portrays itself as the safest option, a force that could bring political stability and public order in a country where terror groups like Al Qaeda, Daesh and the YPG have run amok. But the SARC study provides a profoundly different account.
“Some 50 per cent of people in the Assad-controlled areas don't feel safe, including those who never left; 67 per cent of returnees from outside Syria don’t feel safe, and those in the reconciliation areas fear the worst with 94 percent saying they don’t feel safe,” the SARC survey noted.
It’s significant that even half of the people, many of whom have often been considered Assad loyalists and continued to live under the Assad regime despite its atrocities, feel insecure under the rule of Damascus. “This shows that it is important not to equate those who remained living in Assad's areas of Syria, which people may do for any number of reasons, with loyalty or approval,” the report noted.
The SARC report revealed that returnees feel even more insecure than people who always stayed under the regime's rule. That aspect has long been a major factor to make many Syrian refugees reluctant to return to their home country.
But people, who have been allowed to live in former opposition areas through “reconciliation deals”, feel more insecure than anyone else. Reconciliation deals have been conducted between Assad regime representatives and local mediators to ensure former opposition fighters will disarm and surrender.
While the Assad regime claims to have normalised areas controlled by Damascus, evidence collected by various independent bodies shows that it has been used as a political tactic to tighten the regime's control over people.
Despite the reconciliation deals, a lot of people, who were part of the process, were not only continuously targeted by the regime, but also subjected to arbitrary arrests and other inhumane treatment, according to many studies.
The SARC report also confirms it.
“Campaigns of arrest and enforced disappearance are still ongoing, including against those covered by 'reconciliation agreements' and those who have been included in regime-issued amnesty, which highlights a lack of any kind of security guarantee in Syria,” the report said.
“19 per cent of those arrested were covered by amnesty while 26 percent were covered by 'reconciliation agreement'. The amnesty laws are almost illusory, used to falsely demonstrate goodwill without the real release of those detained for political reasons and do not represent a guarantee,” the SARC report pointed out.
Many human rights defenders have long stated that without freedoms, there is no point to security. It’s also true that without security, people cannot exercise their freedoms. But in Syria, even the most loyal citizens lack both security and freedom stuck between a brutal regime and armed groups raging across the country, according to the SARC report.
For general security, the report indicates that across Syria “there are no safe areas, with some of the more practical safety parameters showing that security is poor everywhere” due to the security policies of the Assad regime.
But for freedoms, the war-torn country is “a cemetery” according to the report: “78 percent of people in Assad-controlled areas think they do not have freedom of expression, while 85 per cent think that their right to participate in peaceful demonstrations is not protected.”
“Those who are dissatisfied have no way to express it,” it added.
The Syrian conflict has also created perfect conditions for corruption, carried out by both the regime and armed groups. Exploiting the absence of any real security and the rule of law, regime representatives have used their positions to extort money from ordinary people, according to the SARC report.
A fledgling economy and widespread corruption across Syria have allowed the regime’s security forces “to intensify the use of arbitrary arrest and forced disappearance as tools of making extra money through extortion” from people who are desperate to secure their loved ones’ release or some information on their whereabouts, according to the report.
“The heads of the security branches make the amnesty law a source of theft. The name of the person who pays more is written on the amnesty lists even though he is detained by mistake or often for no reason,” said one of the respondents to the survey.
Even worse, corruption levels in Syria, when compared to previous years, have increased alarmingly last year, the report said.
“54 percent of respondents see that there were very high corruption rates in 2020 compared to 39 percent in 2019, up from 20 percent in 2011, meaning the perception of corruption jumped massively in the last year alone,” the SARC study reported.
The increasing menace of corruption is one of the main reasons why Syrians who were largely subdued by the regime are unable to trust the country’s justice system.
“48 percent of respondents said that they do not have access to the judicial system to tackle corruption issues. 59 per cent of respondents said they need to pay bribes to obtain their citizenship rights, such as obtaining documents or securing government permissions,” the report said.