Three members of Syriac Military Council illegally tried and imprisoned in Turkey, given life sentences for “disrupting unity of Turkish state”

Three members of the Syriac Military Council (MFS) taken prisoner in North and East Syria by the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) have been illegally sentenced to life in prison in Turkey.

Jamil Gerges, Emad Saud, and Muhassan Al Okla, members of the MFS who were taken prisoner while defending North and East Syria from Turkey’s “Operation Peace Spring” invasion, were captured by SNA militants and illegally transferred into Turkish custody. They were initially sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in Turkey.

Dr. Amy Austin Holmes, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center who has done extensive research on the composition of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has followed the cases of the three MFS members and spoke via phone with their lawyer in Turkey:

[They] told me that the three men were severely beaten/tortured in Syria by the SNA militias who captured them, then suffered mistreatment again in Turkey while in detention. They were reportedly interrogated without a lawyer, and given Turkish documents to sign, without a written Arabic translation, although none of them speak Turkish. “They had no idea what they were signing. They were already torturing them, then forced to sign documents in Turkish which they did not understand,” their lawyer said.

Despite being Syrian nationals defending Syrian land and never having engaged in armed actions inside Turkey, Gerges, Al Okla, and Al Saud were charged with disrupting the unity of the Turkish state and Turkey. They were also charged with being members of an armed terrorist group despite being members of the MFS, and official partner force of the U.S.-led International Coalition against the Islamic State.

Due to a lack of evidence, the accusation of “disrupting national unity” was dismissed for lack of evidence and the three men were sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in Turkey.

However, it seems the prosecutor has successfully appealed the decision and the court has extended the sentences of the men to life in prison.

Human Rights Watch has recorded at least 63 incidents of Syrian citizens being detained in Syria and then unlawfully transported across the border and imprisoned in Turkey. According to Dr. Holmes, the actual number could be as high as 200.

The majority of the approximately 60 Syrian nationals known to have been tried in Turkey were charged with “disrupting the unity of the state and the country” and were sentenced to life in prison.

The Syriac Military Council released a statement on Tuesday calling for the international community to secure the release of its fighters.