The missing and the detainees; a trade over their families’ heartbreaks
Enab Baladi Issue # 102– Sun, Feb. 9, 2014
During the last month, “Anatolia” broadcasting agency has published some footages believed to belong to detainees who passed away under torture in the prisons of the Syrian regime. The pictures, leaked by one of the regime’s dissent officers, have strongly received media attention, and had a significant emotional impact upon parents who lost their children, either in the liberated areas or in those under the regime’s control. This issue has been exploited by some of the regime’s officers who run their own new business over the families’ suffers. Their business is based on employing intermediary legal lawyers and judges who can access the areas under the regime’s control – that is they’re not wanted by the security forces- where the intermediary person becomes a reference for the families of the lost or the detainees to get any information about their children for a huge sum of money in return. This deal implies “information for money” where the amount of money is agreed on in advance, but not due for payment until the information is told to the families. This kind of trade has become popular recently, due to the huge numbers of the missing and the detainees during the past three years.
Abu Ismail, one of the intermediary lawyers, describes this trade as a kind of “blackmail”. In a talk to EnabBaladi, he said, “in spite of the illegality of this mediation job, I found myself involved in it just to help the heartbroken fathers and mothers get any relieving information about their missing sons”. The lawyer continued to say, “there is a prior agreement between us and some of the officers, that we hand over the names of the detainees or the lost to be searched for. They in turn go through their records and papers or they search through the computers’ files to find out the detainee’s place. Once it is known, the officer receives the agreed on money for this process”. The lawyers’ offices have become full of the relatives of the detainees and the missing people after their repeatedly failing attempts to get any piece of information from the security forces about their sons.
In an interview with the families of the detainees in this regard, some said that they roamed all the security branches in Syria and knocked all the doors for any piece of information, but the answer was always “your son is not at ours”. Those families believed that the security agents follow this method in order to get financial gains through the lawyers who have links with the officers. These statements confirm the allegations that families usually find their detained sons at the branches where they had already asked in without getting satisfactory answers. This always fell out when the intermediary lawyer was the one who asked.
“I got tired of searching for my son who got lost at one of the checkpoints in Idlib city”; that’s how Om Ahmad started her talk to EnabBaladi. She continued saying, “whenever I asked in person, I got no answer. However, when I asked the lawyer to do that, he returned to me saying that my son is in the civil prison of Adra and requested a 25 thousand Syrian pounds in return. I managed to pay him after I sold my golden ring I kept it for myself. Eventually, thanks to God, I was able to visit my son in the prison two days ago”.
This trade has existed prior to the emergence of the photos of the 11000 detainees, but strikingly it has dramatically become more widespread after this incident. Most often, the lawyers come back with bad news; that is bringing the detainee’ death certificate, ID and his personal belongings. Nevertheless, the officers insist on taking their share of the money for this news. Though the information remains uncertain because sometimes the intermediary lawyer brings news from some security agents who do not really have the right information. One of the lawyers confirms he had brought 4 death certificates for people who surprisingly were found out to be alive after they were released.
The recently leaked photos of the dead under torture urged a large number of people to go to the media centers, especially those with low income, hoping to find the information they need before having to ask for any lawyer’s help. However, after seeing the covered-faces and anonymous-names photos, families started to ask a significant question; “why didn’t the dissent officer publish the real names and photos of the dead?”