The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) embarked on numerous raids and arrested dozens of people in its control areas in Deir ez-Zor province, located east of the Euphrates River, during the “Deterrence of Terrorism” campaign it first launched on 4 June 2020 against the cells of the Islamic State (IS), aka Daesh.
The reported raids and arrests were spearheaded by the security services of the Autonomous Administration and the SDF, particularly by the Anti-Terror Forces, known as the HAT. Some of these raids were covered by helicopters of the US-led coalition, eyewitnesses claimed.
In the wake of the campaign’s first stage, the SDF announced that it arrested and detained 110 persons on the charge of belonging to IS, in a statement made on 10 June 2020, adding that it also swept large-scale areas in the suburbs of Deir ez-Zor and al-Hasakah provinces. It also arrested and detained other 31 persons during the campaign’s second stage, according to the corresponding statement made on 21 July 2020 that reported the outcomes of the 4-day operation in rural Deir ez-Zor. “At the end of the [campaign’s] second stage, the participant forces managed to achieve the planned goals,” the SDF said, pointing out that it arrested 31 terrorists and suspects, one of whom it described as a high-ranking IS commander.
Contrary to SDF’s reports, as it declared arresting a total of 141 persons over the course of the campaign between 10 June and 21 July 2020, information obtained by JFL and STJ, that are backed by a thorough investigation process, indicates that the SDF arrested no fewer than 339 persons in Deir ez-Zor province alone, from the outset of the first stage of the “Deterrence of Terrorism” campaign on 4 June to late August 2020. Furthermore, the fate of 44 of those detainees is unknown, since 200 persons are already released, while about 90 others are being brought before the court, the field researchers of the two organizations reported, adding that among the persons arrested were a number of teenage boys, who are not yet 18 years old.
During the campain, the raids and arrests targeted several towns in Deir ez-Zor province, primarily Hajin, Gharanij, Diban, al-Shheell, Huwayej Diban, al-Tayyana, Ash Sha’Fah and al-Baghouz.
Furthermore, the JFL and STJ documented the arrest of no less than 29 persons in February 2020, of whom 23 are released, while the remaining six continue to be detained at the al-Kasra prison, west of Deir ez-Zor city.
For the purpose of this report, the partner organizations reached out for sources, eyewitnesses and relatives of detainees in Deir ez-Zor province, who addressed the reasons for and the way the detentions were carried out. Three of the interviewees are relatives of detainees, who got detained during the “Deterrence of Terrorism” campaign, including a minor boy, 16, a university student and a young man, who is his family’s sole breadwinner. While none of the relatives were informed of the reasons for the arrest, the fate of the three detainees was yet unknown at the time of reporting in late September 2020.
Moreover, the report provides the testimonies of two former detainees, arrested and detained by the SDF earlier on and for various charges, most notably belonging to IS. Both of the witnesses reported maltreatment, which at times amounted to beating and physical abuse.
In a report published on 14 August 2020, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic stated that security deteriorated as the SDF ramped up raids and arrests against civilians, who are allegedly affiliated to the Islamic State in the Levant and Iraq (ISIL), so-called Daesh in Arabic, adding that:
“The Commission documented eight cases of arbitrary detention of civil society workers, political activists and persons of Arab ethnicity by the Syrian Democratic Forces and affiliated Kurdish People’s Protection Units/Women’s Protection Units, including by their military intelligence. Civilians were apprehended in towns in Raqqah and Hasakah Governorates and held in various intelligence facilities under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, as well as in Ghweran Prison, the Al-Shadadi prison, the former Raqqah juvenile prison, and Ayed, Al-Aid and Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) prisons.”
The SDF carried out similar raids and arrests in Raqqa province in August 2019, which affected no less than 14 civilians, including well-known activists of civil society organizations. Four of the detainees were released later on.