Civil society activists in the grip of SDF militia

With the fall of the Syrian regime in the capital of Raqqa in 2013, dozens of civil society organizations sprung up across the province, taking advantage of this new found freedom. Activists set up a media office to document all political and military developments in the city, organized workshops to educate and teach skills to the people, and even elected a local council whose task was to ensure all basic services were provided fairly across Raqqa.

However, this moment of freedom was soon destroyed when ISIS seized control of Raqqa in early 2014, thereby limiting the work of civil society organizations by prosecuting activists. Some were murdered by ISIS. Some fled the city. But some managed to continue their work in secret despite the danger they were facing.

After ISIS was eradicated from Raqqa in 2017, the shelling from the International Coalition and the Kurdish-dominated SDF forces had destroyed the city’s infrastructure and left an ocean of corpses buried beneath the rubble.

People gradually returned to Raqqa seeking to revive the city. Many organizations emerged in this time, such as “Early Intervention” to clean up debris as well as “Youth Oxygen” to distribute clean drinking water and renovate public building structures.

But SDF authorities who had taken control of the city turned against these organizations, just as their predecessor ISIS had.

In the past 10 days alone, the SDF has arrested dozens of civil society activists working in organizations supportive of the city’s reconstruction and restoration.

The SDF arrested the activist Hassan al-Kassab, the coordinator for an organization called “Creative”, after he’d came back to Raqqa from Serbia for marriage. His whereabouts are unknown. He was arrested and accused of being an ISIS operative.

SDF also arrested Ahmed al-Hashloum, the director of “Development of Dignity”, and accused him of being an ISIS operative as well.

Activists Salah al-Kate, Anas al-Abo, Elias al-Abo, and Khaled al-Saud al-Salama were also arrested by SDF.

In response to these arrests, dozens of activists have launched a campaign to show solidarity with the detainees, pointing out that the SDF is seeking to end all civil society organizations in the city. ISIS destroyed most activists during their reign, and now the SDF aims to finish the job.