April 8, 2022

Press release: Assad robbed Syria’s detainees of $1.5 billion

A new report by the Association of Detainees and the Missing of Sednaya Prison (ADMSP), has revealed that the Assad regime confiscated a staggering $1.5 billion US dollars’ worth of assets from Syrian detainees since the revolution first began in 2011.

Since then the regime has arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared tens of thousands of people.

ADMSP’s damning new report ‘They took everything’: Confiscation of detainees’ assets and funds in Syria highlights how the Assad regime continues to use detention and disappearance not just as a systematic tactic to evoke fear and crush dissent but as a source of revenue for its ongoing war against its own people.

The figure of $1.5 billion is an estimate based on the findings of a survey of 105 former detainees who had cash, property, factories and personal possessions, including jewellery and electronic devices, seized from them while they were in detention. The true figure is believed to be even higher, as this estimate is only based on assets seized through court rulings or other official channels. Many more assets are seized unofficially. More than $32 million US dollars worth of assets is estimated to have been confiscated from Sednaya prison alone in one year in 2015.

Detainees described how after years of abuse in detention they were released only to discover that their homes and businesses had been confiscated leaving them facing a future of poverty and homelessness.

Tarek Ibrahim, an activist who was arrested in 2012 for documenting human rights violations by the regime, was detained for eight years in various prisons and tortured in Sednaya. Upon his release in April 2020 he said:

“When I got out [of prison] I found out I’d lost even more than I realised. The regime had confiscated everything we owned: our properties, our businesses – we owned a shop for laptops and computer maintenance, they’d taken all of that. ..They have taken everything from us, and we can’t do anything about it. My brothers and I have been stripped of all our rights so we can’t make any claim to get back what is rightfully and legally ours.”

The report found that the proportion of detainees who had their assets seized doubled from 19% to 38% after the Syrian revolution. The vast majority said the assets had been seized unofficially – just 29% said assets were confiscated via court rulings.

The confiscation of detainees’ assets is just one of the illegal means that the Assad regime has been using to counter the impact of sanctions amid a crippling economic crisis that has seen the collapse of the Syrian currency. Other means include the extortion of money from family members of detainees, seizing assets of businesses and allowing the illegal Captagon trade to flourish effectively converting Syria into a narco-state.

Diab al Serrih, a former detainee and co-founder of ADMSP said:

“The confiscation of assets is a cruel strategy used by the Syrian regime to continue to punish and terrorize detainees even after they have left prison. Its impact is deliberately longlasting – many of the detainees were already tortured and ill-treated in prison and now they are left deeply traumatized and impoverished struggling to piece their lives back together and find a way to support themselves.”

Hussam al-Balkhi from Caesar Families Association, whose brother’s home, car and other assets were seized after he was detained, said:

“As well as taking my brother away from his wife and baby daughter and stealing his home and possessions, the Assad regime tortured him to death. The policy of confiscating assets is designed to crush detainees and ruin them and their families financially. It illustrates very clearly the inhumane and corrupt nature of the regime.”

Kouloud Helmi from Families for Freedom, a women-led group campaigning for justice for the tens of thousands who have been arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared in Syria’s prisons said:

“They stole our sons and daughters, they also either bombed or have stolen the homes and farms we had memories with them in. As families who are facing the agony of not knowing the fate of our loved ones or even for those of us who received news that their family members were killed under torture, such corrupt and brutal policies further impact our livelihoods and any possible route for recovery. The international community must take urgent steps now to release all those arbitrarily detained and end impunity by holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes. The Assad regime must not be allowed to further exploit Syrian families.”

ADMSP’s report also surveyed a wider sample of 801 detainees on details of their arrest, detention conditions and circumstances of release.

To arrange an interview with a spokesperson from ADMSP, Caesar Families Association or Families for Freedom or case studies featured in the report please contact: [email protected]