Syrian dissidents and their families have been stripped of their homes under a little-known anti-terrorism law used by authorities to seize their property.
In one such case, an architect who had joined street protests against President Bashar al-Assad during the 2011 uprising and played a role in posting anti-government material online said he lost his house, office and farmland in Ghouta, in southwestern Syria, as well as his car.
“I built my house brick by brick. I built it with my bare hands, tended to every corner and to every inch,” the architect said. He now lives in the northwestern province of Idleb after fleeing with many other residents of Ghouta after its surrender in April.
A security order led to the architect’s membership to the Architects and Engineers Syndicate being terminated and pension plan cancelled, he told Reuters. But he maintained his innocence, noting he only took part in protests but fell short of taking up arms against the government.
In 2016, the man, who did not want to be identified, said he attempted to sell his car to help provide for his family but was faced with shocking news.
“The broker in Damascus told me that a seizure had been imposed on all properties owned by me, my partners, my wife and children,” he said via a messaging app.
But human rights groups said lists circulating online show that hundreds of such orders have been made, potentially affecting thousands of people.
Syria’s anti-terrorism laws were updated about a year into the 2011 uprising. The embattled Assad issued a decree to arm the courts with the power to impose “security seizure” orders against individuals it deemed a threat.
A doctor from the town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta, who left in April and now lives in Turkey said his house, land, clinic and car had also been seized by authorities.
“The Syrian regime has labeled all the opposition activists as terrorists, tried them in absentia and seized their properties,” he said.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said Assad’s orders to freeze assets were among numerous laws used by Syrian authorities to punish political dissidents and opponents.
However, Damascus has denied targeting peaceful dissidents with its anti-terrorism laws, or unlawfully dispossessing people.
The Syrian war began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, deploying airstrikes on civilians, and displacing millions both inside and outside of Syria.
This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.