FCO Human Rights Report 2019
No specific reference to FoRB.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
Sunni Muslims are the majority faith community in Syria, making up approximately 74% of the population. There are significant Shia, Alawite, Christian and Druze communities, as well as Yazidis and adherents of other diverse religious communities. Prior to the civil war, Syria was renowned for its religious diversity and tolerance. However, both sides of the war have used tactics that have significantly increased sectarian tensions in the country.
The Syrian Constitution declares Islam to be the state religion and Islamic Jurisprudence to be a main source of legislation. The constitution ‘respects all religions’ and guarantees the manifestation of religion that does ‘not prejudice public order’. The constitution further permits different religious communities to legislate their own personal and family matters. Conversions from one faith community to another and interreligious marriage are rare and discouraged by the state to prevent social disorder. Converts from Islam can face pressure from family members.
Relations between the Alawites and the Sunni majority have deteriorated significantly as a result of mutual fears and suspicions. In a number of ways, President Assad has accentuated these divisions, with the leader reportedly encouraging the portrayal of uprising protesters as Sunni extremists and armed terrorists; saturating the protest movement with radical Jihadists in order to weaken its secular-democratic element, as well as staging provocations of Alawites in order to instil fear amongst them with the hope of increasing their loyalty to the regime as ‘protector’.
This predominance of Alawites in the army units and militias dispatched to the frontlines has, in the eyes of many Sunni Syrians, tainted the group. Alawites are perceived by Sunnis as a corrupt, privileged and rich group, which participate in war-profiteering. Despite this, Alawites commonly face circumstances of general deprivation. Most of the community live in underdeveloped villages in territory favourable to the regime.
On the other hand, Daesh continues to commit atrocities against non-Muslims and Muslims who do not adhere to their version of Islam. Daesh has committed mass executions and targeted arrests of Christians, also attacking Shias and Yazidis. The Druze community has faced notable persecution from both Daesh and the Assad regime. While Daesh has lost its physical territory, it still mobilizes 18,000 remaining fighters in Iraq and Syria. While the pace of their operations in Syria has dropped significantly, in July 2018 Daesh killed 300 Druze in a series of suicide bombings and door-to-door killings. On 8 November 2018, Daesh released 17 remaining Druze hostages who were abducted from Suwayda in southern Syria earlier that year.
There also remains the presence of the Arab-Kurdish conflict. The Turkish military and their allies perceive Yazidis and other non-Muslims as both infidels and Kurds, which makes them doubly vulnerable within the conflict. The Christian Syriac Military Council warned of a possible Turkish attack on the eastern Euphrates River region in Syria, resulting in the potential displacement of thousands of Christians residing in villages and towns along the Syrian-Turkish border. It has been reported that Turkey has been amassing troops at Ras al-Ayn. In late 2018 and early 2019, Turkey increased its military hardware in the region. The US decision to pull out 2,000 American troops from Syria in December 2018 increased anxieties in the area as Kurdish and Christian minorities had been somewhat reliant on their presence and protection. However, Kurdish authorities have reportedly conducted raids of Christian schools, interfering with activities and confiscating property.
Religious freedom has deteriorated significantly in the area of Afrin, a once diverse and tolerant region. Throughout 2018, pro-Turkish militias and the Turkish army allowed Islamist militants free reign in Afrin, installing Sharia and targeting Christians, Yazidis and other non-Muslims for forced eviction, displacement, and conversion. The killing of Christians has been glorified, while Yazidi places of worship in the area have been destroyed, with their towns re-named and homes given to Islamist fighters.
The area of Idlib, which borders Turkey, has become a significant battleground for both government forces and armed groups. The region had been controlled by several rival factions, but in January 2019 was violently taken by the jihadist alliance Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). It remains one of the last Jihadist strongholds, with a United Nations committee member citing that some 20,000 HTS fighters reside in the region. More widely, HTS has reportedly sought to expropriate Christian homes, shops and land. It was understood that, in November 2018, forceful notices were circulated to numerous Christian families with the implication that property would subsequently be seized from them. Moreover, in a village in Idlib, a Syrian Christian woman was discovered dead on 9 July 2019 after being repeatedly raped, tortured and stoned.
Fear amongst the Christian community has been high in the last years, as it has faced threats, intimidation and kidnappings from multiple radical Islamic groups. The Christian community has experienced significant upheaval since 2011 as a result of the Syrian civil war. While Christianity had once comprised up to 10% of the population prior to 2011, it was reported that, as of 2017, eight out of every ten Christians previously residing in the country had fled due to the conflict.
In the UK Parliament, 2020
No questions asked.
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