Syrian regime detains dissident’s relatives following Al-Jazeera appearance amid continued threat to opposition families
Security forces from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have detained the relatives of a man who took part in an Al-Jazeera programme on Syria, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has said.
In a report published on Thursday, the SNHR said that the regime had arrested relations of Abdul Rahman Al-Saleh, a dissident who took part in an episode of the well-known Al-Jazeera Arabic debate programme The Opposite Direction on 8 December.
The episode was entitled “Aren’t living conditions in Syria a catastrophe on all levels?”
Al-Saleh, who has lived in exile in Germany since 2014, delivered stinging criticisms of the regime during his appearance, facing off against pro-Assad journalist Sherif Shehadeh.
He held the Assad regime responsible for Syria’s economic collapse, accusing the Syrian dictator and his family of corruption and appropriating public funds in order to stay in power.
Al-Saleh also said that Assad and other regime figures were willing to continue stealing public money, no matter how much suffering that caused to ordinary Syrians.
The episode received a great deal of attention in the Arab world, partly because the presenter, Faisal Al-Qasem, mistakenly said that Al-Saleh had been speaking from Latakia in regime-controlled Syria, when he was in fact speaking from Germany.
The SNHR said that Al-Saleh’s relatives had been arrested without any judicial warrant, adding that this was standard in such cases, when security forces at checkpoints and on patrol detain people simply for being related to regime opponents.
The human rights group added that it had documented 20,872 cases of people being detained by the Syrian regime for being related to opponents. 27 of them were women and 13 were children and some had been ‘forcibly disappeared’ with no information on their current whereabouts.
Detained relatives made up a total of 15% of the political detainees held by the regime, according to SNHR figures. They have been subjected to torture, the SNHR said, and at least thirteen had died since the Syrian uprising against President Assad broke out in 2011.
Abdul Rahman Al-Saleh was previously an officer in the regime’s army before defecting and fleeing to Germany, and is now a member of the Syrian National Bloc opposition party.
He said that though he deeply regretted the fact that his relatives had come to harm because of his Al-Jazeera appearance, he was not sorry for what he said during the programme, adding that it was a matter of principle and conviction.
“Does a Syrian citizen have to be born in an orphanage in order to express his opinion without fearing for his relatives, even if they’re from the tenth degree?” he said.
In 2014, the US denounced the Syrian regime for arresting relatives of opposition delegates to failed UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva.