Syrian Legal Platform

Restricted Freedoms and Religious Extremism

Mutaz Obeid – SY24

For the past five decades, Syrians have lived under a totalitarian regime that has succeeded in excluding all those in opposition, after the Baath Party came into power by force through the military coup of 1973.

Throughout all those years, the ruling party was violating international human rights standards. Journalist Hafez Qarqout told SY24 “when the Baath Party came into power and formed a totalitarian regime, it started a process of eliminating all civil society activities, especially the political one. It eliminated all other parties, imprisoned their members and prohibited them from practicing any of their activities.”

In 2010, Human Rights Watch organization published a report on the human rights situation in Syria that mentions the arrest of 92 political activists; the organization pointed out that this was not a complete list. These statistics, however, have drastically changed after the start of the popular revolt in Syria in 2011, as the number of people arrested reached 105 thousand, according to the Syrian Human Rights Network, not to mention the number of people who have died in regime prisons, which have reached 13 thousand prisoners who have been executed in a prison associated to the Syrian government, according to a report issued by Amnesty International in 2017, under the name “human slaughterhouse.”

In light of the brutal repression of the popular movement, various militias have been created to confront the regime’s repression; but the extremist ideology was able to penetrate popular movements, taking advantage of the existing security chaos. These extremist movements started spreading their ideology and taking control of areas using people’s religious sentiments and sectarian belongings.     

Qarqout considers that “the political and sectarian extremism that the Baath Party promoted has contributed to the emergence of extremist movements after the start of the revolt, and that people’s adoption of extremist thought at the start was only a means of self-defense after the regime used the most brutal methods of suppression and murder.” adding that “extremism is the other face of the oppressive authority; they both defend each other based on their interests.” 

There are no accurate statistics on the number of members associated with movements that have been listed as terrorist groups in Syria, but the US organization SOFAN indicates that the number of extremist group members is between 20 to 30 thousand fighters from various nationalities.  

These extremist groups, such as ISIS and Alnusra, have repressed the freedoms of those who oppose them in a terrorist way that has reached in some cases imposing taxes on people of other religions, and captivating women due to their religious backgrounds. The existence of those groups has become an obstacle in front of many journalists and media outlets trying to cover news events in Syria.  

An activist who preferred to stay anonymous told SY24 “those movements don’t differ from the regime in their approach; they also violate civil rights of everyone who opposes them; they restrict freedoms and refuse the existence of any groups that do not share their extremist ideology.” he also added that “extremist groups, such as ISIS and AlQaeda, prevent the entry of anyone coming from the regime areas into the cities under their control, and they have confiscated people’s properties under this pretext. Regime forces use this same approach as well with whoever opposes the regime.”

With so many different forces conflicting in Syria now, and the restrictions of freedoms that Syrian civilians are facing by all conflicting parties, journalist Samer Alahmad said “relaunching a peaceful civil movement with new objectives might help us reach the civil state that the March revolution initially called for.”

Although the Syrian crisis has entered its eight year, international forces are still unable to hold accountable those who are responsible for the atrocities, and put an end to the violations being committed against the Syrian people.

Alahmad considers that Syria is heading towards a policy of territorial divisioning, depending on the distributions of power, although Syrians are still dreaming of a  democratic civil state.

The 8 years of war have caused the death of over 200 thousand civilians, and the forced displacement of about 13.5 million people as a result of the military operations being carried out by the conflicting parties, amid an international silence that reflects the international community’s real intentions; which made Syrians lose trust in all international values and principles. Syrians now see all the international parties conflicting in Syria as partners to the crime.

This human rights article was published with the support of the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDF) and the Canadian organization Journalists for Human Rights (JHR).