Derike, Syria (AINA) -- On Thursday, June 3rd, 2021, Husam Alkass, a journalist and member of the Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO), was abducted by a group of masked men on the open street during the afternoon hours in the city of Derike (Al-Malikiye), northeastern Syria. According to a statement released by the ADO on June 3rd, he was beaten and pulled into a vehicle and brought to an unknown destination. The ADO condemned the abduction and demanded Alkass' immediate release.
In a related statement, his family rejected any attempt to consider this abduction a mere security or criminal incident, and stated that they "have all the reasons to believe that this abduction is political, and it is related to Husam's views on promoting and defending human rights and freedom of expression in the region under Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and it's political wing the Syrian Democratic Council."
The case quickly attracted attention in the region and in the Assyrian and Arabic-speaking media. The General Union of Kurdish Writers and Journalists issued a statement calling for the release of Alkass and the prosecution of those responsible for his abduction. The Syriac Union Party (SUP) in Syria, collaborating with the PYD and part of the so-called Self Administration, also demanded his release.
The next day, on June 4, Husam Alkass was released. In a related statement ADO's Executive Board expressed gratitude to the Peace and Freedom Front and its head, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Jarba, and Sheikh Zaid Al-Jarba "for their efforts from the first moment of the kidnapping of Husam until the moment of his release and his return to his home and family." On this occasion ADO reiterated its rejection of all repressive practices that contradict the values of freedom and human rights while demanding that the de-facto authority, represented by the Autonomous Administration, releases all prisoners of conscience held and to stop arrests and kidnappings against for peaceful expression of opinion.
Husam was apparently kidnapped because he wrote a comment on his Facebook page criticizing the forced conscription by the Autonomous Administration; he accused the administration of violating their freedom, this gave impetus to people who gathered and demonstrated against the administration in the city of Manbij's demanding to stop forced conscription.
Mr. Karam Dawle, a member of ADO's Executive Committee, representing his organization in the Advisory Support Team in the Syrian constitution related Geneva talks, which consists of Assyrians, Kurds and Yazidis, said the following:
"The Autonomous Administration should focus on the deteriorating economic and health issues of the population and work towards alleviating their suffering. It should conduct a meaningful and constructive review of its practices and performance, and initiate a concrete undertaking to open up to various political forces in the region to come together and support a dialogue towards improving the administration based on genuine partnership. The arrest of a member of the ADO, Husam Alkass, and the way it was violently carried out came in broad daylight in public view is a clear message of intimidation not only to Husam but to anyone who dares to criticize this authority. The incident also reveals the true nature of this authoritarian Administration, which sanctions and facilitates the use of violence to silence opposing political views. Despite numerous slogans related to human rights and freedom that PYD-led Administration puts out, day and night, it is still far from the real modern civil administration that respects the rule of law and human rights. The case of Husam is not an isolated case, there are many instances where security forces resorted to excessive violence against media and human rights activists and political opponents. It has reached unprecedented levels, including the assassination of Deacon David Jendo (AINA 2015-05-27) and the assassination attempt on his colleague Elias Nasir, who narrowly escaped death in 2015, and many similar cases involving Kurdish and Arab activists."
Back home united with his family and friends, Husam Alkass was interviewed by Ninos Shabo on the ADO Web-channel on June 9, speaking about the ordeal of the incident from the time of his arrest until the time he was released and his view with respect to the solidarity campaign and the support he received from activists, organizations, and parties securing his freedom.
Here is an abbreviated transcription and translation of that interview.
Ninos Shabo: Husam, welcome to the program.
Husam Alkass: Thank you and my thanks to the followers of ADO News.
NS: During your detention, the campaign to free you labeled you as a social media activist and a member of the ADO. How would you describe yourself?
HA: I am Hussam Al Kass, a member of ADO, active in social media, human rights, peace movements, and law.
NS: Can you tell us about your arrest? According to the ADO bulletin, you were arrested around 4:00 PM by several unidentified masked men; can you elaborate more on the incident?
HA: Yes; I was going home after I finished shopping, around 4:30 PM a car full of masked armed men stopped me on the main street close to the Syriac Church; they abducted me and forced me into a car, and took me to undisclosed security location of the Self-Administration Authority. I was subjected to intense interrogation and abuse. They wanted to know about my political views, my relationship with human rights organizations, and other topics in general.
NS: How do you see your detention? As you mentioned you stated it is an abduction? Is it lawful or legal?
HA: My arrest, in my opinion, and from the legal point of view, is not legal nor lawful and can't be sanctioned by any law. I was questioned because of my views and human rights activities as well as helping and protecting people in different fields, all these activities are part of free speech and free expression. They interpreted my activities as enticing division and damaging to the public, which is completely contrary to what I do. I can't see how this could be considered legal. Any way you look at it, it doesn't constitute an argument or reason to detain me.
NS: During your detention there were wide spread demands for your release. On social media there were calls from people of all walks of life, political parties, local and international organizations. What did you think about that after you were freed?
HA: I was surprised by the tremendous support I received during my ordeal. I value the support and love of those people who stood with me, and I appreciate their concern. That said, people, organizations, and political parties were able to pressure the authorities for my early release. I thank all of them. As you know, I was disoriented at the time of my release and I could have missed acknowledging some of them. I take this opportunity to thank all the organizations and parties, governments, all people, Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, and Assyrians for their support. I also wish that the unprecedented campaign I received should be equally given to all prisoners of conscience, free-minded Syrians and those who are imprisoned without trials, in prisons of the Syrian regime and the Self-Administration Authority (SAA). Any person who is detained for expressing his opinion freely deserves to get the same support I received.
NS: We wish that all prisoners of consciousness shall be set free. I remember one post on social media saying that you deserve to be detained because you have been promoting hatred, divisions, and prejudice but differed on the way you were detained. What is your answer to such an accusations?
HA: Sorry Ninos. I have seen some comments of that sort, they are influenced by the status-quo prevalent in the SAA, at the same time, indirectly, they are against these detention practices. In democratic and free societies free speech and free will are protected and you can't imprison those who don't agree with you. I was surprised by that accusation; and I say to all of them "I have my post on Facebook and its available to everyone, show me where I had such statements published against certain people, religious or entity." Criticism in democratic and free societies is constitutionally protected and those who practice this right are immune from persecution. All along, my criticism has been against the de facto situation under SAA and the deterioration of living, economic and political conditions, and the lack of equal representation of the people, Arab, Assyrian, and Kurds in the administration.
NS: In addition to the accusation, some are stating that you were detained for being an Assyrian and socially and politically active. The Self-Administration Authority wanted to silence you because you are an Assyrian. In this regard how true is this accusation against SAA? Or do you see it as an attempt to drive an wedge between different entities and people under SAA?
HA: First, I would like to thank all the Assyrian people, organizations, and political parties in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey, as well as, in the West for their support. I would like to add that there was a minority of ill-feeling by those who you cited; there is a misunderstanding of the situation. As the real issue lies in the perception of SAA that an active person is criticizing the administration on social media, and on the law and human rights forums for being incompetent, it is fair to say the reason [for detention] was purely political and has to do with right and aspiration of the people under the rule of SAA - and I would like to emphasize this point. The Self- Administration Authority has in the past detained activists whether they were Kurds, Assyrians, or Arabs, in fact more Kurds than others. They resort to this practice when they need to.
NS: As a member of the ADO Media Committee how would you describe this SAA action?
HA: As far as I am concerned it was a painful experience. I hope that no activist would be subjected to this humiliation in all East Euphrates and Jazira. Detaining someone because of his opinion is very hard and leaves negative feelings in one's mind. This incident has tainted SAA's reputation as a champion of freedom and peaceful coexistence among the people in the region. The SAA violated its by-laws and slogans and that is a huge setback.
NS: I would like to give you the opportunity to close with a comment on any related topic that we didn't cover.
HA: It is necessary that people's integrity is protected and all violations against individuals based on their beliefs are stopped. In many areas in Syria there are local administrations, morally they should project a view of tolerance different than the Regime and build on it, and improve it. I hope we shall be able to reach a higher standard in protecting individual freedom, free press, peaceful coexistence, and real partnership. It is imperative, the current local governments ought to have better records and standards than the dictatorial regime in Damascus.
Translation of the Arabic language interview by Karam Dawle and his team. Edited by AINA.