Members of the Kurdish security forces of Asayish are seen in Syria's Qamishli. Photo: ARA News
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The Democratic Union Party (PYD)-led autonomous administration in northern Syria is using a crackdown against terrorism and the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) as a pretext to unlawfully detain and unfairly try peaceful critics and civilians believed to be sympathizers or members of alleged terror groups, said Amnesty International.
Researchers interviewed 10 detainees at two prisons run by the PYD-led autonomous administration, during a fact-finding mission to northern Syria.
Some had been arbitrarily detained for periods of up to a year without charge or trial. Those who did face trials said they suffered from lengthy pre-trial detention and that proceedings were blatantly unfair. They were denied basic rights including the right to defend themselves, to see the evidence against them, and access to a lawyer and their family.
“The PYD-led autonomous administration cannot use their fight against terrorism as an excuse to violate the rights of individuals in areas under their control,” said Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International.
“Resorting to such heavy-handed tactics in the name of security such as locking up suspects based on their views or tenuous affiliations without evidence is only likely to backfire and does nothing to improve security. Regardless of the alleged crime, detainees’ basic rights to a fair trial and freedom from arbitrary arrest should be upheld.”
The PYD-led autonomous administration has run parts of northern Syria since 2014 after the withdrawal of Syrian government forces. It has its own police force, courts, prisons and laws.
The area under the control of the PYD-led administration has been subject to regular assault by IS. In addition to targeting Asayish and YPG (forces under PYD control) security positions, IS has directly targeted civilians in areas under the control of the PYD-led government, killing, displacing, and abducting residents.
In 2014 the administration passed a new counter-terrorism law that they have used to detain and prosecute terrorism suspects.
As a de-facto governing body the PYD-autonomous administration is obliged to respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law including with regard to the prohibition on arbitrary detention and the obligation to ensure fair trials.
Many detainees interviewed however have been arrested for acts that are not recognized criminal offences, and often with no evidence of criminal wrongdoing against them. Some detainees were never told of the charges against them or brought before a public prosecutor or judge. Out of five detainees convicted on terrorism grounds interviewed four said they had been sentenced after grossly unfair trials without any substantiated evidence of their guilt.