women from Sawaed al-Khair body of HTS during a tour of Idlib schools to "educate the schoolgirls of the importance of Hijab" - Ibaa agency
Civilians living in the governorate of Idlib are subjected to severe restrictions on freedoms and physical and verbal assaults by "Sharia" bodies affiliated with the Hayyet Tahrir al-Sham HTS, which controls the city. The body wants to apply its "moral approach" and thus exerts psychological pressure on the residents via renewed copies of its offices and advocacy institutions with the aim of "preserving morality and spreading virtue".
Many of the residents of Idlib agree that the elements of these offices are abusing the residents there with their unjustified arrogance, preventing them from public life, imposing a certain uniform on women, in addition to scolding and possibly beating people on the pretext of mixing men with women.
In this report, we review the testimonies of many residents of Idlib on this subject. Monitoring a number of violations occurred and continue to occur in the markets, at checkpoints, in facilities, and in public places. This raises many questions about the possibility of continuing of this method in front of the resentment felt by the residents of the governorate, whether from Idlib itself or displaced from various Syrian provinces.
* Harassments started at first from the checkpoints
After the seizure of the city of Idlib from the grip of the Assad regime forces on 29 March 2015; factions within the operating room of the "Jaysh al-Fatah", most notably "Nusra Front" and "Ahrar al-Sham"movement, to apply their "moral" vision inspired by the Jihadi school on the people there, where formed the so-called "Fatah for advocacy and endowments," then, and emerged from this body, Hasabeh body, called the office of "Fatah Advocacy".
The residents of Idlib were surprised at the quality of the "body"s behaviors in the markets and public places of the city. They also witnessed cases of severely restricting and interfering in their personal lives, through the "Body" workers touring between the shops in order to prevent the mixing of women and men and to control the violations and frauds that usually occur in the markets. At the checkpoints, any element of the "Fatah Army" had the power to intervene in the simplest affairs of the people.
In the summer of 2015, Sa'id (a 35-year-old young man from Idlib) was driving toward the city. He was confronted by a checkpoint of the "Nusra Front". One of the elements asked: "Why isn't your wife wearing the niqab?" referring to the face covering that the "Nusra Front" and other Islamic factions consider it an obligatory Islamic duty.
According to what "Sa'id" said to "NSO," a verbal argument took place between him and the element "foul mouth and impolite," as described, and failed to clarify that his wife veiled and that they are sitting in a private car and the windows are all closed, to be scolded by the element after that as he's done an evil act, "I hate going out with my wife to the city of Idlib, but to any other area because of these checkpoints.", as he said.
What happened with Sa'id is very similar to what Muhammad saw on the road between Sarmin and Idlib in late November 2016, when the elements of the body stopped a public bus he was traveling with his wife, then one of the elements went up and asked him: "Is this your wife? ... show us what proves this. "
Mohammed (the displaced from the city of Darya in Rif Dimashq) was surprised by this request. He was ordered by a long-beard, in his 30s to prove his marriage to his wife and then brought them to the checkpoint.
The armed element progressed towards the women and the series of questions began, "Is he your husband, what is his name, what is the name of his father, his mother, etc.", "I thought Idlib was saturated with freedom and the spirit of the 2011 revolution, but this incident and the following similar stories changed my mind towards all the Islamic factions, on top the "Hayyet Tahrir al-Sham HTS" he commented.
The Syrian countryside, and Idlib countryside in particular, are known of liberation from the traditions and customs of the Syrian cities. The nature of the agricultural environment and the daily and intimate interaction with relatives and neighbors dictate this liberation, but the scene of the autumn of 2016 seems to have contributed to the reduction of life aspects living there.
At the checkpoint of one of the towns, with the start of the olive picking season, the elements of the "Nusra" checkpoint stopped the Abu Mahmoud bus, which was carrying a full workshop of young men, young women, and old women.
Abu Mahmoud saying to NSO: "One of the elements hurried to bring down all of them, while the checkpoint gathered around us raising their voice under the pretext of mixing between men and women in the bus, I told them that they are just boys, but they insisted punishing us as a result of this hideous evil deed, whipping every one of us two times on our hands.”
As evidenced by the previous eyewitnesses, the elements of the "Hayyet Tahrir al-Sham HTS" (al-Nusra) working on the checkpoints, their problem usually confined to all the details that concern women, commenting on the dress, and ask for a "Muharram" with them while traveling, and perhaps these incidents and others made people fear to pass through the checkpoints under their control first, and then gradually developed until they conquered the cities.
* About Fatah Advocacy office and its violations
Before their attacks on dozens of armed factions operating in northern Syria, the "Hayyet Tahrir al-Sham" shared these factions control of Idlib under the name of "Fatah Army", but after the attack on most of the components of the factions that participated in liberating Idlib, it has become the biggest influence in the region and thus tightened its grip on most of the checkpoints of the region, and imposed the provisions described by the people as "unfair". The ruling was composed of many factions, it was not possible to distinguish big differences between the "Nusra" applying and "Ahrar al-Sham" to their concepts of "morality".
In addition, forcing people to abide by a particular law was witnessed only by the large cities such as Idlib, Ariha and Jisr al-Shughur, unlike the rest of Idlib countryside, especially the eastern and southern regions, where no such phenomena were observed.
Following the control of the three mentioned cities in March 2015, the Fatah Body for Advocacy and Endowments, which was also emerged, the Office of Fatah Advocacy, and its headquarters were distributed in the main markets.
On the pretext of applying God's law on earth, the Office workers - most of them Syrian Sharis who have long hair and beards and wore the jalabiyas or Pakistani custom. civilians and sellers have been subjected to various forms of abuse.
As he passed by the Fatah Advocacy office in the market of Idlib, Shams heard a voice calling him. Shams, a 24-year-old from Damascus, was accompanied by his wife to buy some necessities. He turned to find out the sound; he found one of the Sharis pointing to him. "The man began scolding me because my wife did not cover her face. I discussed that this was not obliged, but he could not tolerate any dialogue, therefore, our voices raised and he started scolding me as I am from Damascus and that all the people of Damascus are not religious."
He added, "I outraged and my voice started to rise, causing the rest of the staff to intervene to silence me and then they ordered me to leave the office."
The 28-year-old Mahmoud reviews a similar testimony of Shams'. In the same place and in front of the same office, "Mahmoud" was stopped because the "mantu\ external long clothing" of his wife reveals her shoes. "The mantu was short by 10 cm, so he ordered me to buy a new one because this garment is not covering, and advised me to change it immediately in the interest of my wife, so she won't be harmed by any of those, as he described them, sinners who do not look away,", Mahmoud says.
Al-Fatah Advocacy Office is active in the city of Idlib, especially within the main market of the city. But in the cities and towns of Ariha, Jisr al-Shughur and Harem, in addition to Daret Izza west of Aleppo, the "Hasaba", an armed security body composed of men and women, performs the same functions of the former office in the same manner.
There are many names for these bodies, which their Shari's say that they are intended to "enjoin virtue and prohibit vice." but they are all similar in the way of applying and arrogance treating by the elements of these bodies when dealing with parents, which often leads to quarrels and verbal quarrels between elements and civilians who reject this impolite way and may sometimes develop into a fighting, as happened in late 2016 in the market of Ariha, where a verbal quarrel between a woman and one of the Hasaba women developed into a physical quarrel, during which she was beaten after insisting on the woman to wear the niqab and the neccessity to cover her face.
Instead of indicating that there was an imbalance in security guards dealing with women, the residents were surprised that in the following days, the workers of the Hasabah Body were carrying Kalashnikovs hiding them inside their clothes to be used for intimidation in case of such incidents.
Although the markets, streets, and checkpoints have more elements of this Advocacy Office, this does not mean that the famous places are empty of these elements. Perhaps the strangest scene is what Abu Sa'id, a 39-year-old from Idlib, said. "I used to eat dinner every week with my family at the big family club restaurant in Idlib," he says, "at first I did not notice anything offensive except that there was an armed element in front of the restaurant door. stopping and advising the costumers to buy the niqab for their wives. But with the increase in demand for this restaurant increased the number of elements of the Office at the door and their intervening is clear in private affairs."
While he was talking about what happened, we noticed his voice rose and his cheeks turned red, as he couldn't believe what happened, "On one occasion, the scene looked different. I saw four armed youths and five women from the Hasabah Body, who stopped the women and repeated the cliché, the scene seemed most painful.''
* "Sawaed Al Khair" Body
"Sawaed al-Khair" is the latest security version in "Hayyet Tahrir al-Sham HTS", and is no different from the previously mentioned devices only as being immune, and can be seen in the large campaigns, based on the strength of the HTS after defeating the "Ahrar al-Sham" and its dominance completely on the city of Idlib in July 2017.
This body is led by a person named Muhammad Yahya, known as Abu Hussein al-Qalamouni, in addition to a group of male and female Sharias in the body who constantly say that their doors are open to anyone who wishes to "deny evil and call to Allah." But this applying was met with great resentment by the residents of Idlib, in the light of the numerous violations of the elements of this body.
Many and intersecting sources told NSO that Sawaed al-Khair launched a large-scale campaign in Idlib, targeting "the ban on tobacco and cigarettes, and fought the mix between men and women, and disclosing women their faces."
They also raided dozens of cigarettes shops, which has led to the disappearance of this item from the markets and made their price high. Many barbershops were fined under the pretext of "illegal shaves" and scolded young men wearing "jeans", reminding us of the parents' experience with ISIS.
But the most famous of these incidents is the arresting of the internal bus drivers run by a Banafsaj organization on the pretext of mixing men with women. NSO tried to get more details from the organization to know the circumstances of the story, but not received any response or comment.
Also, elements of the same Body broke into the Pythagoreth educational institute in the city of Idlib on the pretext of mixing in classrooms and beating a teacher in last February.
All this has raised resentment among the people at the highest level. "They are afraid to leave their home in Idlib. every day they are abused and harassed," said Fadi, a displaced young man from al-Qalamoun.
Mohammed, the 30s young man, did not hide his resentment at the repression of personal freedoms practiced in the name of religion, stressing that he was determined to travel to Turkey soon to get rid of the "repression that no longer can stand".