Bassel Khartabil, Beloved Technology Innovator, Arrested March 15, 2012. Executed October 2015. Death Confirmed August 2017.

An interview with activist lawyer Noura Ghazi

30 January 2014


By Nebras Dalloul - Damascus, Syria

Since it was founded during 2012 with legislation decree number 22, many Syrians want to know something about this court “Counter Terrorism Court”. The National Coordination Body’s website is interviewing lawyer Noura Ghazi to benefit from her experience about this court, its procedures and briefly, her personal experience, having a detained husband in “Aadra” Central Prison.

Q: First of all, kindly tell us about the situation of political prisoners in Syria

A: The situation is worse than you can imagine, even Counter Terrorism Court that were founded to substitute National Security Court, is in fact, another security branch, it has nothing to do with law.

Q: As far as we know, Counter Terrorism Court were founded with a legislation decree number 22 year 2012, one of its clauses mentions that an advisor out of three, should be a military personnel, is this legal? I mean, is this legal within the legislative structure in which the regime operates?

A: Since military crimes for terrorism are also referred to Counter Terrorism Court, it is legal - looking at it from this angle - to have a military advisor.

Q: It is mentioned in the legislative decree #22 that the Counter Terrorism Court’s center should be in Damascus, the capital city of Syria, chambers can be initiated in other municipalities when necessary, were any chambers initiated?

A: So far, this haven’t happen, yet a lot is being said about two chambers will be founded in the cities of Aleppo and Lattakia.

Q: Where are the people referred to Counter Terrorism Court being detained?

Civilian detainees are transferred to Aadra Central Prison, while most of military detainees go to Saydnaya Prison, being the primary military prison.

Q: Being a lady, this encourages us to ask you about the percentage of women referred to CTC?

A: Some women are arrested because of their participation in military operations held by opposing armed groups in direct or indirectly, others are arrested for coming from areas were the armed opposition is active, or for family relations with men fighting the official forces and a some women are referred to the CTC even though they are peaceful opposition activists who never held arms or encouraged holding arms, approximately 20% of the detainees in CTC, including under aged.

Q: Could you tell us about the under aged cases in CTC?

A: Juveniles range between 15 to 18 years old and are few before the Terrorism Court but they exist, unfortunately, and they are not treated as juveniles; their verdicts are disproportionate with their age and they are based only on a “police record”, which is legally speaking irrelevant following the Code of Criminal Procedures. I have, for example, among my clients (not juvenile) some sentenced with a 20 years’ incarceration based on the police record! There are things that unfortunately are not taken into consideration in trial even the law makes it compulsory such as the condition of a pregnant woman or a juvenile.

Q: Why juveniles are incarcerated in Adra central jail? Shouldn’t they be at the juvenile centers?

A: If the juvenile’s age is between 15 and 18 years and he committed a crime he is incarcerated at Adra’s jail, if the offense is not a crime he is incarcerated at the juvenile centers.

Q: How is the treatment of the juveniles at Adra’s jail?

A: There is nothing to say about their treatment in Adra’s jail. In my opinion getting out from Adra’s jail to freedom helps more in the psychological and social balance of the person then if getting out directly from the security branches’ jails to freedom.

Q: How do you qualify the lawyers’ presence at trials?

A: At the Terrorism Court the lawyer has the right to attend the interrogation and has the right to ask for a dismissal under certain conditions. It is prohibited to check the interrogatory of the client but after the interrogation and the lawyer is not allowed to take a photocopy of it. It is important to say that the decision in the dismissal request may take long time. And the lawyer is not allowed to talk directly to his client, but through the judge.

Q: There is a question for us who work in the public field: is it necessary for the lawyer before the Terrorism Court to be active politically to be active?

A: Not at all, legal profession and the judiciary must be an independent field.

Q: Interrupting: sure, and this is what we want it to be in our motherland Syria, but I meant… why the cases which are led by active lawyers are more successful?

A: This is due to sympathy by the lawyer if he really believes and is convinced of the justice of the cause of the detainee, and I am not talking about the indicted detainees, everyone knows what the abuses by the armed opposition groups are. The belief in the justice of the cause of the detainee being a peaceful activist is what makes the lawyer gives a lot in the pleading. There is something else about that the majority of lawyers who are affiliated with the national opposition and earning small wages for their pleadings in peaceful political activists files.

Q: Talking about your role as lawyers, have you thought about changing the law of the Terrorism Court through a coalition or a petition to the Presidency explaining the facts and the inconveniencies of such court?

A: Unfortunately we haven’t worked on that and we cannot because such an act would be used to accuse us politically, the important role we can play is to defend those people and offer them assistance even morally and this is our real priority. At this stage we do not have other priority than helping the detainee and his relatives as much as possible.

Q: It is not possible to talk with Nora Ghazi without talking about her personal experience. You are the wife of the detained Mr. Bassel Khartabil Alsafadi, who is a programming expert, detained since 15-03-2012 and there was more than one local and international campaign for his release but all failed. In less than two months he will complete his second year in jail, what happened to his file?

A: The status of Bassel is complicated, first because he is convicted by a field court with large charges and this what preoccupies me, and he is now in Adra prison and I do visit him on a regular basis and we deal with the subject as if we can do nothing, as a lawyer I cannot plead for him because he is transmitted to a field court, and we don’t know when his case will be seen knowing that he was interrogated since 06-12-2012 and till now no ruling is issued against him which is strange.

He is doing fine because there is interest by the media and by some international human rights organizations, but the tragedy, and I am here talking as a wife, I mean my husband is okay because there are people talking about and shedding light on him, but there are thousands of detained persons no one knows anything about them and no one knows what happened to them, unfortunately on the organizations and media level they are talking only about known people or relatives of well-known personalities, so there must be a focus on the rest of the people. It hurts me that there is no justice even against the detainees by at least highlighting their case, what I do always repeat.

Q: Many people do not know that you and Bassel got married while he was detained, what could you tell us about that…what was the feeling of Nora the woman regardless your profession as a lawyer?

A: Bassel was arrested two weeks before our wedding day and what hurts me more is that he got arrested the day we were bringing my wedding dress and putting the last touches on our wedding. I do remember once we were taking pictures before we got engaged I told him I have the feeling that I will be the revolution bride, that’s why we focused on not letting anything go out of our hands and decided we would live each moment as it is. Thus we got married in the prison, what is the problem? To date I cannot describe my feeling that moment.

Q: Interrupting: beautiful or heartbreak feeling?

A: No not heartbreak feeling at the contrary it was a feeling I don’t think any other wife felt it beforeK that’s why I’ve been called the “revolution bride” and I felt we can continue despite all the difficulties or impossibilities. I express this topic with a tear where I was able to do an accomplishment not on the Syrian revolution level but on our personal relation level, we have put our mark and we are influencing people and changed the life of many. To date the media talks about our marriage and its reasons. My name and Bassel’s name symbolize many things to many people.

Q: At the beginning of the current year, we posted on the national coordination committee website a letter Bassel have sent to you on new year. We have published it because the current generation with the technological development and pattern of rapid life has become far away from the romantic traditional sense that we find in your relationship with Bassel despite his arrest. Here I ask you: what does these letters exchanged from behind bars make you feel?

A: In short, these are my life messages… my whole life. I have books of letters of more than thousand between me and him, in addition to papers that I wrote in his absence. As I have said it is my world which I carry around wherever I go. I love paper and reading about him, I do not use computer to read, what then when Bassel’s smell is in the paper?

There are feelings through these letters. And I do not exaggerate if I say that those feelings made Bassel strong and coherent inside the prison, which is thus one of the few in his strength, among the 8500 prisoners of Adra’s prison. In short, he lives within a tremendous amount of emotions through these letters that make him strong.

Q: Attorney Nora let me at the end of this dialogue, to extend my big thank to you on behalf of the national coordination committee website for this legal and personal dialogue.

A: All thanks to you