'Dead and mutilated woman' reappears in Syria

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Damascus – On 23 September, Amnesty International reported the death in prison of Zainab Al-Hosni, an 18-year-old woman who had been arrested on 27 July.

On 3 September, her body was handed over to the family, decapitated and mutilated. According to the human rights organisation, she had been arrested to put pressures on her brother, Mohammad, an opposition activist who had gone underground but was eventually arrested on 10 September.

Her body was handed over to the family three days later. Zainab’s case quickly came to symbolise the suffering inflicted on prisoners by Syria’s regime and as such was denounced in many countries by human rights defenders.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Syrian television broadcast a video of a young woman, claiming to be Zainab Al-Hosni, showing her identity papers to the camera.

She said that she was never in prison and certainly had not been killed. Instead, this Zainab said that she had fled home because her brothers had brutalised her. After hearing about her “death”, she decided to tell the truth and rebuke claims about her death, which in her view, had been concocted to further “foreign interests”.

The interview with the young woman has been rebroadcast several times in the past two days. Her family confirmed that the woman seen on television was Zainab.

The government-controlled Human Rights Network issued a statement calling on Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others to apologise to the Syrian people for their lies, which, it claims, had provoked violence against civilians and soldiers.

Zainab

The matter raises some questions. First of all, if Zainab Al-Hosni was neither arrested nor killed in prison, whose body did Zainab’s family see on 13 September? In a statement, Amnesty International said it was looking into the matter, adding though that, whatever the case may be, Syrian authorities have to identify the mutilated body put on display on 13 September in the morgue of the military hospital in Homs.

Meanwhile, Syrian authorities, especially Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem and Presidential Adviser Butheina Shaaban, not to mention Syrian media, are jubilant about the Russian and Chinese veto at the United Nations Security Council against a draft resolution condemning Syria.

In Syria itself, the country is marking ‘Liberation Day’, the anniversary of the 6 October 1973 attack against Israel.

Syria’s opposition laments instead the United Nations’ failure to condemn the regime.

Against this background, President Bashar al-Assad announced this afternoon that municipal elections will be held on 12 December. The presidential decree refers to the new Local Administration Law, promulgated on 23 August, that set up a Local Administration Higher Council chaired by the prime minister.

Minister of Local Administration Omar Ibrahim Ghalawanji told state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) that the decree is evidence of the government’s seriousness and credibility as well as its commitment to have the elections conducted before the end of the year. The minister added that elections will bring changes to the lives of citizens.

Indeed, such elections would be a test of the regime’s credibility, but given the widespread insecurity across the country, it is questionable whether they can be anything but normal.

Given its attention focused on events at the United Nations, Syria’s opposition has not yet reacted to the announcement of local elections. Many expect it however to call on voters to boycott the poll.

In fact, it is likely that like in the past, these elections, usually ignored by international media, will be controlled by the Baa‘th Party, since other parties have not been legally set up.