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AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition. Being A Human Rights Activist in Syria. January 22, 2009 Dr. Radwan Ziadeh Reagan- Fascell Fellow National Endowment for Democracy (NED). MAP OF SYRIA. Damascus: the oldest continually inhabited city in the world

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january 22 2009 dr radwan ziadeh reagan fascell fellow national endowment for democracy ned

AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition

Being A Human Rights Activist in Syria

January 22, 2009

Dr. Radwan Ziadeh

Reagan-Fascell Fellow

National Endowment for Democracy (NED)

creating the modern syrian state

Damascus: the oldest continually inhabited city in the world

Modern state established by French Mandate after World War I

Independence in 1946

Democratic institutions functioned intermittently until Ba‘th Party seized power in 1963

Creating the Modern Syrian State
part iii ba th party coup and the third republic 1963 present
Part III: Ba‘th Party Coup and the “Third Republic,” 1963–present

Emblem of the Ba‘th Party

Ba‘th Party co-founder Michel ‘Aflaq

the third republic 1963 present

1963 Coup: Ba‘th Party in power

    • Revolution sweeps away pre-existing democratic institutions
  • Legitimacy transferred to new “revolutionary” institutions
  • Declaration of “State of Emergency”
  • Three official newspapers, all following the official line
  • Parliament not independent
    • Ba‘th Party has majority of seats; no opposition or free elections
The “Third Republic” (1963–present)
General Hafez al-Asad Launches a “Corrective” Coup on November 16, 1970. He Remains at the Helm until His Death in 2000.
unconstitutional rule

Structure of Syrian totalitarianism = Three-sided pyramid leading to President Hafez al-Asad



Ba‘th Party Military/Intelligence

  • 1973 Constitution amends the temporary 1969 Constitution, which gave legislative powers to parliament
  • New amendments lead to authoritarian presidential system
Unconstitutional Rule
emergency law

State of emergency imposed in 1963 remains in force for over 45 years, allegedly to ensure political stability and “national security”

  • Freedom of association, expression, and assembly strictly limited
  • Authorities treat Kurds—Syria’s largest non-Arab minority—as second-class citizens
  • Penal provisions justify punishment of free expression, press, and assembly
  • Syrian authorities refuse to amend legal framework, inimical to protection of human rights
Emergency Law
1980 s human rights case study

1980s: Peak of human rights violations

  • Political authority contested by regime, Muslim Brotherhood, leftists, and opposition leaders
  • Death penalty without fair trials
  • Enforced disappearances of politicians and activists
  • Unfair sentences against political detainees
  • Violence sweeps many Syrian cities and villages, creating deep sectarian, ideological, ethnic fissures
1980s: Human Rights Case Study
1980 s in syria years of fear
Cathedral of Hama,

Pre–February 1982

Cathedral of Hama,

AFTER Assault on the City, February 1982

1980sin Syria: “Years of Fear”
1980 s in syria years of fear1
Grand Mosque of Hama,

PRE-February 1982

Grand Mosque of Hama ,

AFTER Assault on City,

February 1982

1980sin Syria: “Years of Fear”
1980 s in syria years of fear2
1980s in Syria: “Years of Fear”

Tadmur Prison

Sednaya Prison

"Life in Tadmur is like walking in a minefield; death can come about at any moment either because of torture, jailers' brutality, sickness, or execution.“

—Former Detainee in Tadmur Prison

al qawqa a the shell a memoir novel of tadmur military prison1

“Mustafa Khalifa's recently published work, Al-Qawqa‘a[The Shell] (2008) is one of the first novels dedicated to the story of a detainee's imprisonment in Tadmur. Detained himself from 1982 to 1994, the author presents the story of a seemingly apolitical protagonist who returns to his homeland after studying film in Paris and is arbitrarily detained. Musa is arrested upon arriving at the airport, brutally tortured at an interrogation center of the military security service, mistakenly placed with detainees who are members of or suspected members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and then sent to the ‘desert prison.’”

Al-Qawqa‘a(The Shell): A Memoir-Novel of Tadmur Military Prison

Source: ShareahTaleghani, Syrian Studies Association Newsletter, 2009

al qawqa a the shell a memoir novel of tadmur military prison2

“Musa is never sentenced by a court, and he is never placed on trial, but he will spend twelve years in the desert prison. He is however, sentenced to silence by his fellow detainees, when he is overheard telling his torturers that first, he is a Christian and then declaring himself an atheist and therefore in no way affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Al-Qawqa‘a(The Shell): A Memoir-Novel of Tadmur Military Prison

Souce: ShareahTaleghani, Syrian Studies Association Newsletter, 2009

torture in syria

“He tells of the ‘reception’ the prisoners receive upon their arrival t o the prison: each is forced to drink the putrid filthy water from a sewage drain. Those who resist are beaten to death. Those who drink are treated to more torture or ‘hospitality’ as the guards call it. Day after day, the torture continues. Daily activities can bring arbitrary death. He describes the ‘breather’ or break where prisoners are routinely whipped, lashed, and beaten. He recounts how prisoners were not allowed to raise their eyes towards their jailors. He recollects the warden coming into the cell and randomly executing fourteen of his cellmates because of a threat he received in the outside world. He witnesses the weekly execution and trials of inmates in the courtyard through a tiny hole he discovers in the wall of his communal cell. He also methodically describes daily aspects of prison life—surviving the baths, illicit prayers, the confining, airless dimensions of the mahja', the brutal shaving of prisoners heads and faces, the secret forms of communication between prison cells, the innovative modes prisoners use to treat the sick and wounded when deprived of medical care, and the myriad forms of resistance that detainees develop despite the ever looming threat of death.

Torture in Syria
my story being a human rights activist in syria

1998: I began my involvement with human rights work by authoring a book on human rights in the Arab world, The Situation of Human Rights in the Arab World, which has been banned in Syria.

My Story: Being a Human Rights activist in Syria
damascus spring

After the death of Hafez al-Asad (2000)

  • For first time since 1963, there began a period of intense debate about politics, social issues and calls for reform in Syria.
  • The first open forum of Damascus Spring:

National Dialogue Forum (Montada Al-Hiwar Al-Watani)

  • I was one of the founders of this forum
  • September 7, 2001: Syrian government closed it by force and arrested five of its active members:

RiadSaif, WalidBunni, FawazTello, ‘ArefDalila, and KamalLabwani

Damascus Spring
damascus spring1
Damascus Spring

The Damascus Spring,

Radwan Ziadeh

The Intellectual Against the Authorities, Radwan Ziadeh

human rights association in syria tayarat

During the Damascus Spring, I joined forty other activists to establish the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS)

I became first editor-in-chief of Tayarat (Trends), published by the HRAS

Tayarat banned in 2002; three members of editorial board brought before a military court

Human Rights Association in Syria;Tayarat
daily interrogations

I was subjected to dozens of interrogations by both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior.

  • These interrogations would begin with the receipt of a phone call or an unsigned letter on official stationery.
  • They would sometimes last six or seven hours, and sometimes would not begin until I had been waiting for an entire day.
  • The conditions of these interrogations were threatening, both implicitly and explicitly (I was told that I could be arrested at any time).
  • I was asked again and again to answer questions about my human rights activities, articles, affiliations, conferences in which I had participated, and connections inside and outside the country.
Daily interrogations
speaking out 2004 2007

During 2004, I was among a group of Syrian intellectuals and human rights activists who formed a group to work on the Damascus Declaration for Democratic and National Change,released on October 16, 2005.

  • A group of Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals met every month to discuss improving Syrian-Lebanese relations. They drafted the Damascus-Beirut Declaration, released in May 2006.
  • The Damascus-Beirut Declaration was publicly branded a “threat to Syria,” resulting in the arrest of 12 signees. There are two still in prison.
  • June, 2007: a new order was issued against me, banning all travel. I had written an article analyzing the structure of decision-making in Syria.
  • I was summoned for interrogation by the head of General Security, who said plainly to me during my last interrogation at General Security:
Speaking out: 2004–2007

“This is the last time you will visit as a guest!”

leaving my beloved city
Leaving my beloved city

Me in a traditional Damascene house

Damascus is famous for its Yasmin (Arab Jasmine)

arrest warrant

January, 2009: I was informed by Mohannad Al-Hassany, head of the Syrian Organization for Human Rights, that the immigration office had obtained information by bribery from someone at the Ministry of the Interior:

Arrest warrant

An order of arrest had been issued against me.

waves of repression

Syrian State Security Services initiated a series of arrests on December 9, 2007, rounding up more than 40 Declaration activists in various cities across Syria. These arrests are a direct violation of the activists' rights to freedom of expression and association.

  • The arrests targeted many participants, but those that had been elected to the Council of the Damascus Declaration were kept in detention and later charged. The arrestees were transferred to Adra Central Prison and Ms. al-Hourani, the democracy activist elected to chair the new group, was sent to Duma Women's Prison.
Waves of Repression
aref dalila academic freedom

‘Aref Dalila: Dean of Faculty of Economics at Damascus University; a prominent academic and pro-democracy advocate. He served a ten-year prison sentence imposed in 2001 for criticizing the government. In prison, he suffered a severe stroke and was reportedly denied proper medical care by the prison authorities.

‘ArefDalila: Academic Freedom
waves of repression1

Journalist and activist ‘Ali ‘Abdullah, withhis son, in prison; A member of the Committee for the Revitalization of Civil Society in Syria. ‘Ali ‘Abdullah has been jailed three times in the past 13 years. One of his sons is serving a five-year sentence for his involvement in a pro-democracy youth group. The other chose exile, having already spent six months in jail.

Waves of Repression
long life with pain faris murad

Period of detention: 29 years

  • Date of release: 31-1-2004. He was released in an amnesty
  • Reason of arrest: Affiliating with an opposition organization
  • Places of detention:
    • Military Maza Prison: since the arrest to September 1975
    • Military Tadmor Prison: 1975–1991
    • Civil Adra Prison: 1991–1998
    • Military Sednaya Prison: 1998–2004
Long life with Pain: FarisMurad
fares murad

Trial: Sentenced by exceptional state security court in 1975 to life sentence

Torture: During interrogation, suffered from: whippings, removal of finger nails, beatings of genitals, electric shocks to the nose and ears, cigarette burns, and hanging from the ceiling (sometimes for days)

As a result, he suffered from Spondylisis, which developed quickly as a result of lack of proper health treatment. In addition, he had high blood pressure, an ischemia heart, but he was still kept in prison.

Released 29 years later: Spondylitis in advanced stage with rigid neck at angle from vertebral column; Barely able to walk

Doctors said his situation couldn’t be treated in Syria, but government banned him from traveling

He decided many times to try to kill himself, but finally he died two weeks ago after a long life filled with pain

Fares Murad
kamal al labwani

Kamal al-Labwani: Head of the Democratic Liberal Gathering, was sentenced to jail for “inciting foreign states to attack Syria” and spreading news that would result in weakening of national morale

Kamal al-Labwani
state security court

Exceptional trials in state security and military courts continue to be used as a common means to punish independent voices and opponents of the ruling regime. Advocates of reform, and democracy and human rights activists have also remained a target of increased repression. Reform figures are banned from traveling abroad and continuously persecuted. The government also continues to outlaw non-governmental associations and other organizations.

state security court
the state security court is one of syria s main pillars of repression

"It's a kangaroo court providing judicial cover for the persecution of activists, and even ordinary citizens, by Syria's security agencies. Defendants have no chance of defending themselves, much less proving their innocence against the bogus charges brought against them.“

—Human Rights Watch Report

"The State Security Court is one of Syria's main pillars of repression"
the republic of silence

In the name of protecting “national sentiment,” the SSSC jailed more than 100 people last year.

  • “It is not these defendants who weaken national sentiment, but the practices used by the Syrian state to silence them.”
The republic of silence