Watchdog documents torture in prisons of Turkey’s SNA in Syria’s Afrin

RAQQA, Syria (North Press) – Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) and Human Rights in Afrin – Syria, two local human rights monitors, documented the testimonies of some 40 detainees tortured in the prisons of the Turkish-backed armed opposition factions, also known as the Syrian National Army (SNA) in Afrin, northwest Syria.

The report is based on testimonies obtained between 2021-2022 from victims who talked about the conditions of their arrests and the detention centers they were held at. They describe  “arbitrary arrests, cruel torture, and acts of sexual violence”.

The report mentioned that most of the victims fled Afrin after their release towards IDP camps and other areas of Aleppo.

Men, as well as women, children and the elderly were arrested. The report documented the arrest of 25 young men, 15 young women, including a baby girl, as well as elderly men and women.

Victims included Arabs, Kurds, and Yazidis, the report added.

The crimes involve a cross-section of the SNA factions active in the region. The Levant Front (al-Jabha al-Shamiya) was accused of 12 arrests; while the Military Police was accused of 10 arrests, the report documented.

Seven arrests were committed by the Turkish-backed Tajammu Ahrar al-Sharqiya (Gathering of Free Men of the East), seven cases by Turkish Intelligence, six by Sham Legion (Faylaq al-Sham), five by Sultan Murad Division, and two by Sultan Suleiman Shah Brigade (also known as al-Amshat).

Two arrests were reportedly the work of Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant/Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, two more were perpetrated by Elite Army/Jaysh al-​Nukhba, while al-Fatah Brigade/Battalion of Conquest Brigade was accused of one.

“Some victims could not identify those who arrested them nor the places where they were held, because they were blindfolded when they were kidnapped and arrested,” the report explained.

The joint report said that the majority of the arrests were conducted in March 2018 by the Turkish Army and the SNA factions after Turkey’s occupation of Afrin.

The Kurdish-majority city of Afrin and its countryside have been under the occupation of Turkey since March 2018, following a Turkish military operation dubbed ‘Olive Branch’ to push out the People’s Protection Units (YPG) under the pretext of Turkish ‘national security’.

The operation caused the displacement of roughly 300.000 of the original Kurdish inhabitants of Afrin, who took up shelter in 42 villages and five camps in northern Aleppo Governorate, also known as ‘Shahba’.

The report indicated that many victims were released after paying large sums of money.

Many international and local human right organizations, as well as United Nations committees, have documented systematic patterns of crimes committed against the indigenous population of Afrin and other Kurdish-majority areas.

The committed violations include arbitrary property seizures, violations of liberties, threats, extortion, murder, kidnapping, torture and detention, and rape and sexual violence against women and girls.

The report cited international humanitarian laws and treaties that prohibit the actions mentioned in the report and consider them “war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

Reporting by Zana al-Ali