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Syria: Kurdish forces tortured sons to death, claim families

July 23, 2021 at 3:06 pm

US forces and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) patrol the Kurdish-held town of Al-Darbasiyah in northeastern Syria bordering Turkey on 4 November 2018 [DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images]

The sons of two families in north-east Syria have reportedly been tortured to death by the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This is not the first time that the militia has been accused of human rights abuses.

The body of 34-year-old activist Amin Issa was handed to his family by the SDF on 28 June, over a month after he was arrested at his home in Hasakah by the group’s internal security agency. His family was not informed of his arrest and was forced to search for information regarding his whereabouts.

Middle East Eye was told by his cousin Hajar that he was held in an SDF prison in Gueran and Issa was imprisoned for criticising the Kurdish autonomous administration in a Facebook post. He apparently complained about the group’s alleged mismanagement of its territories and manipulation of the population in an effort to divert their attention from this.

The SDF told his family that Issa died of natural causes while in prison. His family claims that he was tortured. “A doctor examined the body and concluded that Issa had been severely tortured,” said the family. “He had a broken jaw, internal bleeding and several burns, and had been hit by hard objects.”

An autopsy was carried out by the SDF’s Northeast Syria Peace and Justice Authority at Al-Shahida Hospital, in an attempt to prove that Issa did not die from torture. A video of this was released on 30 June.

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An anonymous medical source at the hospital, however, appeared to confirm the family’s claim. “The doctor who examined Issa’s body and issued a statement in favour of the SDF was a fresh graduate of the University of Damascus without a medical specialty. He is not even qualified to establish the cause of death because he is just a trainee doctor.”

Another family was informed of their son’s death on 1 July after two years without any contact. Ahmed Al-Athal was just 14 when he was arrested by the SDF in 2019 in Al-Tayana in eastern Deir Ez-Zor province. The boy lost his right leg in a Russian air strike in 2014; it is not known why the SDF arrested him.

“They arrested a disabled child two years ago and gave him back to us as a corpse,” said Ahmed’s uncle. Requests by his family to see the boy were refused by the SDF. He was transferred several times between different prisons until the family was told to pick up his body from Qamishli Hospital.

The body also showed marks of torture, bruises and malnutrition. The SDF denied that it tortured him.

Reports have emerged over the years of the Kurdish SDF forcibly recruiting child soldiers, shooting into crowds of protestors, torturing activists and abusing ethnic Arabs in the territories under their control. The embassies of the United States and the United Kingdom in Syria have both expressed their concerns over the death of Issa on Twitter. They have called for a transparent investigation into the matter and the deteriorating human rights situation in north-east Syria under the Kurdish militias.