Syrians Learn of Lost Homes, Rights Through ‘Newspaper Notifications’

Syrians living in "hot areas" losing uncontested legal disputes as authorities make the switch to newspaper classifieds to issue judicial rulings

Syrians are increasingly losing their homes because of a “legal failure” in which the regime’s judicial agencies discharge their legal responsibility through “newspaper notifications” causing defendants to unknowingly lose their property and rights.

The pro-regime Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar said in a report published on Tuesday, May 17, that this common problem was due to the difficult conditions in the country, the loss of regime control over some areas, and the fact that some areas are difficult for authorities to enter and exit.

The newspaper said the “massive demographic displacements caused by the war and the loss of government control over a number of areas” had caused a “costly” procedural gap which many had exploited, some by expediting legal proceedings in the absence of their opponents and settling claims in their favor, and others by using it as a window to legally rob citizens of possessions like real estate, cars, and otherwise.

The issue is applicable to all lawsuits, which issue notifications to defendants through newspapers. In addition to lawsuits settling the sale of cars and real estate, which are the most common, there are suits to separate for discord and absence, suits demanding dowry and alimony, and suits to settle bank loans and personal debts, which subsequently complete the sale of the defendant’s property through auctions, usually at lower than its actual value, under the pretext of collecting debts or personal or bank loans.

The paper quoted a lawyer, Rifaat al-Zein, as saying: “It’s enough for the plaintiff to give the defendant’s address, provided that he lives in one of the hot areas and cannot be notified by usual means, so notifications can be made through the daily newspapers and legal proceedings initiated.”

He said that what sparked fears about the possibility this measure could be exploited was that in absentia sentences in civil cases are definitive, and retrials are not possible except for specific reasons. Some could exploit this to transfer others’ properties — like cars, real estate and money — without their owner knowing.

The recently-issued due process law stipulates that notification through the daily newspapers published in the capital can be done in specific cases, including “if it is shown that the home of the one to be notified is unknown or he has departed for an unknown location, a summary of the documents will be posted on bulletin boards in the court according to proceedings, and announced in a daily newspaper” or “if the notification according to the provisions of Article 22 and what follows is not possible because of exceptional circumstances, then the notification shall be completed through one of the daily newspapers in the capital or in one of the provincial centers.”

The essential problem with notification through newspapers lies in the reduction of the geographical distribution range, especially in light of the notable decline in daily newspaper sales in regime-controlled areas and the fact that they are not able – or not allowed – to reach areas outside its control.

Judge Mazen Ibrahim said: “The problem lies not only in that members of society are not accustomed to reading the newspaper, but also in the simplicity of the notification measure and the lack of constraining conditions that guarantee it will not be exploited. For example, the notification should be done only in the capital and not the other provinces because this creates cases of wrongdoing. How can a person living in a hot area obtain a newspaper published in the capital?”

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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