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2.1. Persons perceived to be opposing the government

Last update: September 2020

This profile refers to different groups viewed by the government as opposition, such as members of anti-government groups, political opposition activists and protesters, and civilians originating from areas associated with opposition to the government. For information about other profiles, which may be relevant see Persons who evaded or deserted military service; Journalists, other media professionals and citizen journalists; Human rights activists; and Doctors, other medical professionals and civil defence volunteers.

COI summary: overview

[Main COI references: Targeting, 1, 1.2.3; Actors, 2.4]

Government forces harshly repressed the anti-government protests that erupted in 2011 and the ensuing military uprising. Throughout the conflict, the GoS has used systematic torture, unlawful detentions and disappearances, starvation and medical deprivation sieges, as well as mass casualty weapons, including chemical weapons, against civilians. Civilians perceived to be either supporting the opposition or insufficiently loyal to GoS were arbitrarily arrested and detained. In particular, individuals perceived to be opposition supporters were most likely to be detained arbitrarily by government forces and its allied militias.[Targeting, 1, 1.2.3]

GoS is reported to view as political dissent the activities of wide categories of individuals, including peaceful protesters, activists and critics of the government, professionals such as humanitarian workers, doctors, lawyers, journalists, bloggers and online activists, as well as draft evaders and defected soldiers. Individuals living in opposition-controlled areas, those in recaptured areas, returnees from abroad, relatives of suspected armed groups members and those who have been in contact with family members or friends residing in opposition-controlled areas, have also been targeted. [Targeting, 1]

Active combat has ended in many areas of Syria, but security services continue to abuse the rights of perceived opponents of the government. The priority of GoS is to eliminate remaining structures of resistance and discourage future rebellion, leading to arrests of civilians as well as former opposition fighters in reconciled areas taken by GoS. [Targeting, 1.2.1]

Syrians ended up wanted by the government and arbitrarily detained for a wide variety of reasons and sometimes for no reason at all. A checkpoint officer’s mood, as well as having a similar name with a person that in fact opposes the government, could lead to an arrest. However, GoS also specifically targeted persons perceived to be opposing the government. [Targeting, 1.1.3]

More than 100 000 people have been detained, abducted or gone missing during Syria’s civil war, largely at the hands of the GoS. GoS forces arrested civilians perceived to be supporting the opposition or deemed insufficiently loyal to the government, including peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, residents in opposition-held areas and relatives of suspected armed opposition fighters. Thousands of detainees are being held without trial, some since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011. Intelligence services were reported to commit systematic rights abuses. They created a wide network of informants and used phone surveillance to ensure that the government kept a close watch of the most mundane of Syrians’ everyday life and to restrict criticism of Assad and his government. [Targeting, 1.1.1]

Government forces, especially the intelligence branches, are reported to torture perceived opponents. Most of the victims were men between the ages of 18 and 60, but torture of women and children was also reported. Extrajudicial executions by the intelligence branches were also reported. The massive and systematised torture and killing of detainees in Syria’s state prisons over the course of the conflict is widely documented. [Targeting, 1.1.2, 1.1.4]



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