SOHR exclusive | After Fawaz, Salam and Nour, kidnapping of children in Syria reaches alarming levels
Syria’s law punishes kidnappers of children for the purpose of collecting ransom to 10 to 20 years in prison, as well as a fine of a double of the requested ransom. It is worth noting that the law includes a section for punishing perpetrators of kidnappings for political purposes, retaliation or sectarian motives, where these perpetrators are sentenced to life in prison according to the legislative decree No. 20 of 2013. If the kidnapping leads to the death of the victim or permanent disabilities or the victim is subjected to sexual abuse, then the kidnappers are sentenced to life imprisonment or death. However, laws are not respected in Syria which has been almost divided with each party attempting to impose influence and its own laws, disregarding basic levels of human rights.
The case of Fawaz who had been kidnapped by a gang and released recently, was just one example of so many other examples manifested themselves in the ongoing attacks, repression and injustice practiced against Syrians.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) renews its appeal to the international community to intensify their efforts to put an end to the worrying phenomenon of kidnapping children, women and elderly people in Syria. SOHR also expresses concern about turning this type of extortion, kidnapping people and asking for ransoms for their release, into a career for making money in light of the current policy of impunity.
After displaying the video which showed the kid, Fawaz Al-Qutyafan, while he was beaten brutally by the kidnappers, people from different areas throughout Syria hurried to collect money to save him. Salam is another little girl kidnapped a year ago in Daraa province which has witnessed a state of security chaos. The fate of the girl, as well as many other children, remained unknown.
SOHR would like to point out that the kidnappings have not confined to children, as many young, adult and old persons were kidnapped in the past few years and their fate remained unknown.
In an exclusive SOHR interview with the human rights activist, Jihan Khalaf says “human organ trade and ransoms were the most noticeable reasons behind the increase in kidnapping of children, especially south , north and north-east Syria. The case of kidnapping the kid Fawaz has shed light to the rampant activities of kidnap gangs in Syria. After the circulation of the video of torturing the kid by the kidnappers to force his family to pay the ransom, the case was turned into a high-profile case. This case ignited panic among the residents who fear for worse scenarios, especially in Daraa province which has experienced escalating security chaos, although regime forces have imposed control on the entire province following the latest reconciliation deals. The kidnapping of Fawaz was not the first incident in the province, as the little girl ‘Salam Al-Khalaf’ had been kidnapped a year ago and her fate remained unknown, although her family found her cloth and bag near a farm.”
Mrs. Jihan has criticised the lack of official stance by the Syrian regime regarding the chaos and state of insecurity, including kidnappings and assassinations, in Daraa province. The human rights activist adds, “the kidnap gangs work systematically and ask large ransoms that are unaffordable by an individual or even a hole family. This means that the kidnap gangs have strong ties with regime’s security services and regime-backed militias and Iranian-backed militiamen, especially since kidnappings have not been subsided after the ‘successful reconciliations’ in the province. The police paid no attention to the kidnapping of Fawaz, except when the incident was turned into a public issue. The officials’ statements remains unclear and disappointing. While connections between the kidnappers and the kid’s family, who managed to collect the requested ransom, were cut off, after statements by regime officials announcing intervention of security services to arrest the kidnappers.”
Al-Khalaf also expressed her concern about the noticeable increase in kidnapping children and women and prevalence of kidnap gangs in the SDF-controlled areas in the provinces of Al-Raqqah, Deir Ezzor and Al-Hasakah. She explains, “according to many resident in these areas, the kidnappings are committed by unknown gangs who take the victims to places specified for human organ thefts. Many bodies were found without eyes, hearts, kidneys and livers. One example, among many, was the case of a four-year-old girl called Nour Al-Jarbou’ whose body was found without inner organs. This incident has sparked panic among the residents over the human organ trade. It is worth noting that children and women are targeted more, as they offer less resistance than adult men. Such kidnappings continue in light of the lack of patrols by SDF whose commanders have taken no effective actions to put an end to the frequent incidents which are committed almost daily, although authorities in these areas announced that they installed security cameras in an attempt to arrest kidnappers. As a result of the state of security vacuum, residents do not feel safe to send their sons to schools or buy groceries.”
The Secretary General of the Left Democratic Syrian Party, Abdullah Haj Mohammed told SOHR “this incident and other kidnappings that took place across Syria are crimes against humanity and blatant violations of principles of all religions. These crimes are one of the outcomes of the state of security chaos and unstable political situation. The kidnapping which take place under the rule of Al-Assad are considered systematic arbitrary arrests allowed by regime forces whether by direct support by security branches or by turning a blind eye to such crimes. The Syrian regime allowed kidnap gangs to financing security branches in return for facilitating their work, as the regime has become unable to pay for its ‘Shabiha’ (regime loyalists who abuse power and conduct illegal actions for the benefit of the regime) who participated in the bloody crackdown on the peaceful demonstration and formed military battalions dubbed ‘National Defence Commissions’ which have later became reserve forces of security services and Syrian army.”
Mr. Abdullah added “kidnappings are concentrated in Daraa and Al-Suwaidaa provinces. The Syrian regime has decided to spread a state of panic among the residents to force them to leave regime-controlled areas, allowing Iran to carry out with its plans of demographic change, or to distract the residents from demanding their rights, particularly the improvement of living conditions which have reached disastrous levels due to the authoritarianism and dictatorship which are the cornerstone of the regime structure and its governing policies. I call upon the international community and related organizations, UNICEF in particular, not to abandon their responsibilities and work on protecting all Syrian people from the security chaos dedicated by Al-Assad’s regime and its allies, especially Iranian forces.”