Has Syrian activist Nour al-Shalo been sentenced to death?
The Syrian women's rights journalist was arrested two months ago by the militant jihadi group Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Confusion has swirled around her detention, and some say Shalo's life is in acute danger.
She has been held in a detention center by the militant group Hay’at Tarir al-Sham (HTS) near Idlib, in northwest Syria, for the past two months. The region is largely controlled by HTS, an al-Qaeda offshoot. The group is considered “a relatively localized Syrian terrorist organization” by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a leading US think tank.
“We have seen a number of reports suggesting that al-Shalo may be at risk of execution. Her case is among many others of documented individuals detained or abducted — and subsequently executed — by HTS and other armed groups in the northwest and other parts of Syria over the past year,” Ravina Shamdasani, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told DW. Shamdasani called on the “de facto authorities to refrain from any harmful act, ensure her protection, and immediately release her.”
Nour: 1 of 44 females in HTS-detention
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SN4HR) also mentioned al-Shalo’s case in its latest annual report on violations against females in Syria, which was published on Wednesday.
The report describes how al-Shalo, a widow and mother of three, was detained by HTS-forces on September 19 in Sarmada, a town west of Aleppo, after a court hearing on custody of her children. The family of al-Shalo’s late husband has reportedly accused her of various moral and criminal acts, which then served as the basis for her detention.
According to the SNHR database, at least 41 females and three female children are still detained or forcibly disappeared by HTS. In the group’s detention centers, the women are subjected to harsh conditions including lack of ventilation, light and hygiene, as well as subjected to severe psychological torture, including threats to kill them or have them executed.
Samar Elhussieny of the Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ) told DW in an email that she grew deeply concerned about al-Shalo’s fate following a report from the pro-opposition news network Syria.tv that a death sentence has been issued and that her execution was set for this Friday.
HTS: Investigation still ongoing
So far, however, HTS has denied that any sentencing took place.
A source with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed to DW that al-Shalo’s arrest had been made on the basis of “criminal and ethical cases such as blackmailing women as well as communicating with an anti-revolutionary state, in addition to photographing locations and places and sending its coordinates to those who request it from among the enemies of the revolution.”
The source added, “We draw attention to the fact that the investigation is still open and no judgment has been issued yet.”
US-based analyst and Middle East expert Elizabeth Tsurkov also tweeted on November 19 that a death sentence had not yet been issued.
Tsurkov confirmed to DW that, according to her knowledge, there has not yet been any conviction. Tsurkov said both an HTS official and friend of Shalo’s told her the news had been spread in an attempt to attract attention to her case.
Al-Shalo’s family left in the dark
The source DW spoke to with direct knowledge of al-Shalo’s situation stated that the activist’s family would be permitted to visit her next week: “The visit will be granted in a few days, and the family will be informed of all developments during the visit.”
But al-Shalo’s mother said in a radio interview earlier this week that, “Nobody knows anything at all, not where she is or what she’s been accused of.”
On November 19, two months after al-Shalo was arrested, HTS issued an official document on Al-Shalo’s detention, in which they allege that she had committed treasonous actions. This was shortly after Nour’s uncle, Hussein al-Shalo, learned that his niece had been charged with treason and other criminal charges, without having had a lawyer by her side, according to SN4HR’s report.
Executions of detained individuals have taken place despite such official announcements.
The voice of marginalized women
Nour Al-Shalo has been active as blogger, social media activist and supporter of women’s rights in Syria. When asked about her work in an interview, she highlighted the need to support women and female empowerment.
“My work has allowed me to contribute to projects which support women professionally and intellectually. I am able to reach a large number of marginalized women in the community whether they are widows, divorcees or have lost their husbands,” she said.
Wafa Ali Mustafa of Families for Freedom, an organization that campaigns against the enforced disappearance and detention of Syrians, believes the charges have been trumped up. “HTS is raising these absurd charges against al-Shalo to defame her and justify her unlawful detention and execution,” he said.
Activists on social media have adopted the Arabic hashtag “Freedom for Nour al-Shalo” to spread awareness of the journalist’s plight. They have also issued a petition calling for her release.