Journalist: Hama business owners face ‘confiscation’ and ‘extortion’

February 24, 2016

Business owners in the regime-held central Syrian city of Hama are facing property confiscations by police forces and extortion by militias, a journalist who recently moved from Hama city to the countryside tells Syria Direct.

Official state security forces and police have confiscated “millions” of Syrian pounds worth of property from departed residents, pro-opposition Umayya Center correspondent Ibrahim a-Shamali tells Syria Direct’s Walid al-Nofal.

“The police will come and seal the door with red wax,” marking absentee business owners’ buildings as government property, says a-Shamali, a Hama native currently in the rebel-held countryside.

Meanwhile, pro-regime “popular committees,” described by a-Shamali as “shabiha gangs,” operate mafia-style protection rackets to extort remaining business owners like a-Shamali’s close friend Abu Yousif.

“The gangs took so much clothing from his store without paying that he was forced to close down and flee for rebel-held areas.”

Q: How do people go about their daily lives given the security forces’ grip on the city?

Most young men cannot leave their homes at all because they are wanted for military service. The only ones who go out into the streets are those who have delayed military service because they are students or those who have paid bribes to military officers to ensure they will be left alone.

And then there is the property confiscation. The security forces have confiscated property and entire stores worth millions of Syrian pounds. The police will come and seal the door with red wax.

[Ed.: In Syria, prior to the conflict and continuing till today, the government will seal a building’s exterior door with red wax to indicate that it has become government property.]

This is what happened to a friend of mine “Ahmed Maher” from Jebel al-Zawia who settled in Hama before the war started. Maher owned a clothing store downtown. After he fled the city, the security forces came and seized his property. When a store is confiscated it usually just becomes the commanding officer’s property.

Q: Do the security forces also exploit business owners who have not fled the city?

The shabiha gangs harass business owners so that they will pay them bribes just to be left alone or they will simply go and take clothes or other merchandise without paying.

This is what happened to Abu Yousif. The gangs took so much clothing from his store without paying that he was forced to close down and flee to rebel-held areas.

It’s not just business owners either. The shabiha intervene in every aspect of people’s lives.

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