“They’ve been irritated by our success, but today they decided to finish everything.” This was the analysis of Syrian activist Aous al-Mubarak after the Syrian opposition group Jaish al-Islam closed the magazine “Rising for Freedom” and five civil society organizations in Douma, Damascus, last week. The area is controlled by the opposition and besieged by forces loyal to the Syrian government.
The move came in the wake of the publication of an article in the magazine perceived by some Syrians to have been blasphemous. Protesters stormed the magazine's offices, along with the offices of five human rights organizations, on 7 March.
Human rights activists shared news and images of the events on Twitter:
Syrian human rights NGOs in eastern Ghouta, including the VDC attacked & vandalized - and today the 'Army of Islam' shut them down pic.twitter.com/ab84Zslb6X— kristyan benedict (@KreaseChan) March 8, 2017
According to a joint statement from 15 Syrian human rights organizations, the police, who are under the control of Jaish al-Islam, did nothing to prevent the protesters from ransacking the building.
At a hearing the next day, the Prosecutor General of Douma ordered the shutting down of the magazine’s offices and other “affiliated” organizations, despite the affected organizations denying that they had any connection with the magazine or the article.
Mubarak, a member of Hurras Child Protection network, denounced the court’s decision to close the organizations on Facebook:
[Jaish al-Islam’s] entire lives they've been annoyed by our presence, and by the principles that we work with: freedom, justice, equality, the separation of powers and general elections. They’ve been irritated by our success, but today they decided to finish everything.
The magazine quickly released a statement apologizing for the article, but the ban on the magazine was extended to other areas in Syria under rebel control, according to a tweet from analyst Elizabeth Tsurkov.
The local court boards in eastern Ghouta, Daraa & Aleppo announced shutting down all offices of the mag& ban on the work of mag inside Syria pic.twitter.com/sNflhGrE83— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) March 11, 2017
The magazine remains banned, despite the five organizations being permitted to reopen today by a court in Eastern Ghouta, the area where Douma is located.
Jaish al-Islam is an Islamist Syrian rebel faction with a particularly strong presence in the city of Douma.
Tsurkov, a Research Fellow on Syria at the Forum for Reigional Thinking, told Al Bawaba that, “the recent clampdown is the latest in a series of Jaish al-Islam attacks intended to subjugate and scare into submission those challenging their rule in a section of eastern Ghouta that is under the control of the militia.”
This is not the first time that Jaish al-Islam have been implicated in human rights abuses. An Amnesty International report in 2015 found that the group was arbitrarily detaining and abducting people, deliberately inflating the price of food in the enclave, and stopping civilians from leaving Eastern Ghouta. The same report also found that bombing by the Syrian government had killed hundreds of civilians in the same area.
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