Turkey and Turkish controlled and affiliated armed groups have arrested and illegally transferred at least 63 Syrian nationals from northeast Syria to Turkey to ‘face trial’ on “the most dubious and vaguest of charges connected to alleged activity in Syria.” that could lead to life in prison, Human Rights Watch (HRW) announced.
Documents obtained by Human Rights Watch show that the Turkish authorities together with armed groups affiliated with Turkish-backed groups have arrested Syrian nationals, both Arabs and Kurds, between October and December 2019 in Ras al-Ayn (Serekaniye), in northeast Syria, after Turkey took effective control of the area following its incursion into northern Syria.
The men were illegally transferred to detention facilities in Turkey, where prosecution authorities have charged them with offenses under the Turkish Penal Code, even though the dubious and alleged crimes were alleged to have taken place in Syria, according to HRW.
HRW defines Turkey as an “occupying power”
“Turkey is an occupying power in parts of Northeast Syria that it invaded in October 2019, as it exercises effective control in the area without the consent of the Syrian government in Damascus,” said the HRW.
“The Turkish authorities, as an occupying power, are required to respect people’s rights under the law of occupation in northeastern Syria, including the prohibition on arbitrary detention and on the transfer of people to their territory” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Instead, they are violating their obligations by arresting these Syrian men and carting them off to Turkey to face the most dubious and vaguest of charges connected to alleged activity in Syria.”
Almost 200 people may have been illegally transferred to Turkey
The detainees were arrested in Syria and transferred to Turkey in violation of Turkey’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention as an occupying power in northeast Syria, Human Rights Watch stated.
HRW was also able to obtain and review about 4,700 pages of official Turkish case file documents pertaining to the arrest of the 63 Syrian nationals in Syria.
Other evidence and published reports from other groups suggest that the actual number of Syrians illegally transferred to Turkey could be as many as 200.
Reports in pro-government Turkish news sources refer to recently detained Syrian nationals who have been transferred to Turkey, indicating that the practice still persists.
Photos with YPG uniform sufficient for sentencing
While the indictments claim that everyone captured was a fighter with the People’s Protection Units (the YPG), in most cases, the case documents provide no evidence whatsoever to back up this claim, according to HRW.
“Family members said that some of those arrested were members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) but held administrative positions and did not fight with the armed YPG or carry arms. Documents in only two cases claim that an individual actively fought with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the PYD.
The documents also fail to provide specific information that could constitute evidence of criminal activity on the part of any of the accused. In two cases, the discovery of YPG uniforms is listed as ‘evidence of criminal activity’.
In another, a video clip of a Kurdish song about the Syrian city Kobane that showed photos of people in YPG uniforms, found on the phone of one of the detainees, was accepted by the Turkish courts as sufficient to sentence him for armed separatism,” the HRW said.
Armed groups raid homes, beat people
Human Rights Watch stated that they interviewed five relatives of seven detainees who were among those arrested in October 2019 in one of the villages shortly after Turkey and Turkish affiliated armed groups, occupied the area.
According to the HRW report: “The relatives, who witnessed the arrests, said that at about 1 p.m. on October 14, 2019, two or three vehicles carrying 20 armed men entered the village. They raided the homes of 15 men and arrested them. In at least two cases, they beat and harassed relatives who tried to stop them.
Village residents identified the armed group as a faction of the Syrian National Army [Turkish affiliated armed gangs], a coalition of armed opposition groups, backed by Turkey. One man said that their vehicles carried the name and emblem of Squad 20 of the Syrian National Army. Four residents said the leader of the squad was called Abu Barzan.
Three of the relatives said they asked where the armed group was taking the detained men and they responded that the detainees were being taken to nearby Mabrouka, which had been under the control of the Syrian National Army [Turkish affiliated armed gangs] and Turkey since October 9, 2019. The armed group claimed that those arrested were fighting for the Kurdish-led administration and told relatives who asked that they were taking them for a few hours to interrogate them.
Five of the relatives said they lost contact with their relatives a few days after their arrest and learned a month and a half later that their relatives had been transferred to Hilvan T-type Prison in Şanlıurfa, Turkey. Documents show that the transfers to Turkey took place between October 19 and 21.”
“Turkey should not be detaining people and transferring them to Turkey”
The recommendations of the Human Rights Watch report state that Turkey, as an occupying force should not be detaining people and transferring them to Turkey and that anyone who has been detained should be brought back to the occupied regions.
It also calls for punishment of any Turkish officials or gang members under the control of Turkey who act illegally in fabricating evidence or illegally detaining or mistreating anyone. It also recommends that any commander or official of the Turkish army or controlled gangs who knew about any such mistreatment should also be held criminally liable for such illegal actions.
The report states that Turkey are acting against international humanitarian and human rights laws, including the obligation to treat detainees humanely and ensure that they are provided with the full spectrum of their rights.
International law prohibits arbitrary detention and requires the authorities to record all detentions properly and to provide anyone seeking information about a detained person with information about their status and whereabouts.
Detainees should be allowed to contact their families.