By Kadr Ahmad and Avery Edelman

A group of Syrian civil society organizations called on Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria to release political prisoners this week, amid an uptick in arrests of political activists affiliated with a major opposition party in the region.

The call came as part of a May 21 statement signed by seven Syria-based organizations which outlines the recent arrest of seven political activists, all of whom represent the Kurdish National Council (KNC) or its affiliates.

The statement demands the immediate release of the imprisoned activists, claiming the detentions reflect a “blatant violation” of human rights.

The KNC is the main political opposition to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a leftist political movement dominant in the Self-Administration, which governs Syria’s de-facto autonomous Kurdish regions in the country’s northeast. Those regions include most of Hasakeh province and parts of Aleppo and Raqqa provinces.

The KNC was formed in 2011 under the sponsorship of Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraqi Kurdistan and leader of its ruling party, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). Barzani has opposed PYD rule over Kurdish territories in Syria, calling it “autocracy.”

Pro-KNC demonstrators at a protest against the PYD in Qamishli. Photo courtesy of Syrian Revolution Network.

Since it declared rule in 2013, the PYD-dominated Self-Administration has periodically arrested members of the KNC and other opposition parties.

In March, at least 40 KNC members were arrested in northern Syria following clashes that took place in Iraq between rival Kurdish groups each aligned with opposing groups inside Syria.

Another string of arrests has been seen this month, prompting the Sunday statement from a group of Syrian human rights organizations.

Among the politicians described in the statement was Bashar Amin, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria (KDP-S), which backs the KNC.

Amin was arrested on May 20 from his home in Hasakeh, according to a statement released by the KNC on May 21, which says that he was taken to an unknown location and that his “fate is still unknown.”

Also mentioned is KNC vice-president Fasla Yousef, who was among 13 KNC members detained by the Self-Administration’s security forces – the Asayish –on May 9, in a major raid of the KNC’s office in the city of Qamishli, located in northern Hasakeh.

Asayish forces detained 13 KNC members at a KNC office in Qamishli on May 9. Photo courtesy of the KNC.

The KNC office in Qamishli was shut down by Asayish forces in mid-March and again in April after being reopened. It is one of several KNC-linked offices recently shuttered for violating a political parties law implemented by the Self-Administration in 2014.

That law requires that political parties in Self-Administration territory apply for a license in order to operate. The KNC and its allies have refused to comply with the law, calling it “illegitimate.”

Canaan Barakat, co-head of the Self-Administration’s Internal Affairs Entity, told the Syrian Voice that violation of the political parties law was the reason for the arrests described in the Sunday statement.

“The arrests did not arise from political or personal reasons,” he said, explaining that they merely reflect “application of the law.”

The signatories of the Sunday statement, however, accuse the Self-Administration and the Asayish forces of conducting “forced detentions and arbitrary arrests” and of violating “human rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed by all relevant international conventions.”

Signatories include the Kurdish Organization for the Defense of Human Rights, the Kurdish Committee for Human Rights and Committees for the Defense of Democracy, Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria.

The KNC, in its May 21 statement on the arrest of Bashar Amin, also called for “the immediate release of all abductees and political hostages without exception,” accusing the PYD of “terrorist acts.”

The council previously claimed that the PYD is trying to “eliminate opposition voices” and “end political life in Syria’s Kurdistan” by way of such arrests, ARA News reported.

Fasla Yousef, vice-president of the KNC, was among those arrested on May 9. Photo courtesy of Rojava News.

Ali Tami, a leader of the KNC-affiliated Kurdish Future Movement, similarly told the Syrian Voice that detentions carried out by the PYD reflect a refusal to “accept the opinion of others” and “an attempt to gain legitimacy through the use of force.”

“Arrests by the PYD are evidence of [the party’s] political failure,” he added.

Accusations of arbitrary arrests by the PYD have not been uncommon since the group consolidated its control in northeastern Syria.

In a 2015 report, Amnesty International claimed that the PYD “is using a crackdown against terrorism … as a pretext to unlawfully detain and unfairly try peaceful critics.”

Despite such allegations, the US has allied with, and recently vowed to arm, the PYD’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), in its ongoing campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Original Arabic article found here.