The “Free” Bar Association opened two of its offices Wednesday, 26 July in the cities of Jarabulus and Al-Bab, which fall under the control of the Turkish “Operation Euphrates Shield” forces. The offices opened to serve civilians in the rural areas of the northern Aleppo province and to handle their outstanding legal cases. This represents the return of the legal profession following its absence in the area for the past two years.
Offices of representation opened in the Association’s two new branches, so that civilians may appoint lawyers to stand for them in cases appearing before the courts. Attorney Mohammad Saed Al-Raghib will serve as the representative for the eastern Aleppo branch of the Association.
The Association has committed to take up cases involving casualties, such as widows and children having lost parents, as pro bono work. The Association also guarantees that it will settle the fees associated with prosecuting these cases, according to comments from the head of the Bar Association’s Aleppo branch, Yassin Hilal, to “The Syrian Voice.”
With this step, the Association returns to work after a five-year absence in this area of Syria, where it ceased operations following the government’s loss of control in 2012.
Following this, the Turkish “Operation Euphrates Shield” forces captured the city of Jarabulus in August 2016 and the city of Al-Bab in February 2017 from the Islamic State, which had controlled the area in the intermediate years.
According to Hilal, the Bar Association in the Aleppo province aims to complete the concept of statehood in the areas outside of government control through the reactivation of national institutions and professional civil society organizations associated with these institutions, such as the Bar Association and those for doctors and engineers.
Hilal continued, “the establishment of this branch of the Association in the eastern Aleppo countryside comes following the cutoff of the legal profession in the area for years, and the capture of the area by radicals who do not believe in the concept of a legal state. They consider the law to be a tool of the infidels, and lawyers to be apostate infidels, according to their religious beliefs.”
Hilal pointed out that the Association and its branches receive cases of divorce, marriage, criminal acts, inheritance, and others from among the civilians seeking attorney representation.
Hilal mentioned that the recently opened offices are a place for bringing together lawyers and civilians with legal cases, suggesting that the attorneys will file these cases with the Shari’a or personal status courts currently present in the area under the revolutionary factions. However, their work will be more effective practically and legally upon the formation of competent civilian courts.
For his part, Jamal al-Jasim, an independent attorney in the southern Aleppo countryside, said to “The Syrian Voice” that “the opening of the Association’s two branches in Al-Bab and Jarabulus are a step in the framework of organizing unionized work, in terms of the cooperation between the Association and the opposition area courts on one hand, and between the attorneys and civilians on the other.”
Al-Jasim added that the opening of the offices in the eastern Aleppo area ensures employment opportunities for lawyers as they appear before the courts of the region in exchange for the amounts agreed on between attorney and client.
Although citizens have not yet felt the results of the Association’s branch openings, they are looking forward to a better reality for their region that will see citizens returning to work with legal papers and proofs that can help organize their lives and secure their futures.
Abd al-Mujeed al-Hafiz, a citizen from Al-Bab, said to “The Syrian Voice” that what worries him the most is the sale and purchase contracts for real estate and farmlands, and he hopes that “the offices organize these contracts and document divorce and marriage proceedings that have been suspended in the city for five years.”
Al-Hafiz continued, “the work of the Association branches’ lawyers help the civilians and guide them to legal pathways for amassing their rights and handling issues related to the loss of old legal documents. Records in Aleppo province were exposed to damage from the government bombing, and IS burned a section of them as well.”
The court building in the city of Manbij, in the eastern Aleppo countryside, was exposed to a fire deliberately set by IS and which led to the burning of all the royal real estate documents and records related to Manbij, Al-Bab, and the surrounding villages. The fire coincided with the battle between IS and the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces.
The law and legal cases are among the greatest challenges facing the Syrian opposition areas. As such, the controlling forces in these areas have sought to set up alternative legal circuits to those run by the regime, particularly in areas like eastern Aleppo province that have recently emerged from the fold of IS control.