January 5, 2015
Omnipresent regime-controlled checkpoints have made movement in and around the capital a time-consuming and possibly dangerous challenge.
Although recent figures are difficult to come by, hundreds of checkpoints are in place across Damascus in addition to a number of “floating checkpoints” that appear in seemingly random locations for short periods of time, reported pro-opposition Orient News.
Checkpoints around Damascus have become notorious for arbitrary arrests, humiliation, and shakedowns. Matters are worse for residents of the eastern districts of the capital, as they are close to the disputed town of Jobar, Naseem a-Dimashqi, the alias of a pro-opposition citizen journalist living in East Damascus, tells Syria Direct’s Ghalia Mkhalalati.
“It takes two to three hours to cross 20km,” the activist says.
Q: You’re from East Damascus. Talk about the regime’s checkpoints in your area.
The checkpoints in East Damascus are among the worst in the capital because they’re close to [the rebel-controlled suburbs of] Ghouta.
The most intense checkpoint searches are directed against the people of Ghouta and those from areas affected by the war.
In places close to Shiite areas such as al-Amara and the Sit Roqaya shrine, non-Syrians man the checkpoints.
An undated photo of a regime checkpoint in Damascus.
Q: How long does it take to move from area to area in Damascus in light of the checkpoints?
Transportation from one area to another has become extremely difficult because of the number of checkpoints, and the regime’s closure of several roads.
It takes two to three hours to cross 20km.
Q: What sorts of dangers do Damascus residents face when they are stopped?
As an activist it’s very dangerous for me—I could be subject to arbitrary arrest. They could take all my info and also arrest my friends.
As an ordinary Syrian citizen, there is an intense sense of fear and anxiety surrounding arrest. The most basic reason [for getting arrested] is for someone to be from a rebel-held area.
As for the women, the investigations are not intense but there is sexual harassment.
I remember one incident when a soldier approached a girl and whispered in her ear while her mother was sitting in the same car.
Q: How are those detained at checkpoints released?
In some cases people pay monetary sums to avoid arbitrary detention—i.e., being held without charges—with the lower limit being SP2,000 (11$) and up to SP10,000 (56$).
Sometimes, [checkpoint guards] will threaten [arrest] just for the sake of scaring people, in order to obtain monetary gain. I was exposed to a case of arbitrary detention—I managed to escape the situation by paying SP5,300 (30$).
Q: What is it like to move between neighborhoods in Damascus?
If a car passes that is filled with goods, all the goods are unloaded and searched at the checkpoint. That forces the car’s owner to re-pack everything, to say nothing of the fact that the security services take whatever goods they want.
The clearest example of humiliations at the checkpoints happened to a friend of mine at a checkpoint near a rebel-held area.
He was arrested along with 17 other young men from Damascus and its outskirts [and they were held] in one room. They were told to lie on the ground, and then the soldiers put on music and danced on their bodies for ten minutes—then let them go.
Q: Is there truth to the news being reported in the Syrian media that checkpoints are being removed from certain areas in Damascus?
A lot of Damascenes thought that the regime had removed some checkpoints and concrete barriers, but the truth is that they just re-arranged the checkpoints and opened some roads.
The capital is still controlled by a large number of security checkpoints. [Soldiers] at all the checkpoints in Damascus and its entrances still inspect cars intensely, and look into any young men around the ages of mandatory or reserve military service.
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