Fears for fate of Syrian Kurd kidnapped and accused of apostasy by Turkish-backed Islamists
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The official US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Friday called on Turkey to intervene to release Radwan Muhammad from Afrin, who was detained by a Turkish-backed Islamist faction in northern Syria and charged with apostasy.
“USCIRF fears for the safety of Afrin, Syria resident Radwan Muhammad, who a TFSA (Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army) faction has reportedly detained and charged with apostasy. USCIRF calls on Turkey to intervene, order its allies to release Radwan, and prevent them from committing such acts, “ the USCIRF said in a tweet.
USCIRF Commissioner, Nadine Maenza, told Kurdistan 24, “We at USCIRF are concerned with reports of apostasy charges in Afrin. This is more proof that religious freedom conditions drastically changed in areas that Turkey has occupied, compared to when governed by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria” (AANES.)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), an NGO which campaigns for religious freedom, on Thursday, reported that on July 30, fighters from a Turkish-backed group, Failaq Al-Sham, arrested Radwan Muhammad at his home in the village of Jaqmaq Kibir near Rajo, a small town in northwest Syria close to Afrin city.
Muhammad, who works as an English teacher and headmaster, refused the group’s orders to hand his school building over to them, so they could turn it into an Islamic school. According to CSW’s local sources, Muhammad told the group: “I will hand you the building in one case only: if Jesus Christ comes down to earth again.”
Muhammed’s wife, who converted from Islam to Christianity some time ago, died recently, but the group prevented the family from washing and shrouding her body, according to local customs.
Pastor Nihad Hassan, who leads a Kurdish church in Beirut and is originally from Afrin himself, told CSW that they are extremely worried about Radwan.
“They may execute him,” Hassan said. “Those Islamist groups and their Turkish masters are walking in the footsteps of IS (ISIS.) In fact, many of their fighters are former IS and al Qaeda members.”
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas called on Radwan’s abductors “to release him immediately and without condition.”
“We also urge the Turkish authorities to intervene by restraining the various Islamist militia groups functioning under its command and to immediately bring to an end all forms of violence and human rights abuses in the areas they control,” Thomas said.
“We call on the international community to press Turkey to comply with international human rights and humanitarian law and to cease all forms of persecution of religious minorities in Afrin and the surrounding area,” he added.
Before Turkey’s assault on Afrin in January 2018, Afrin was a safe haven for thousands of Yezidis and 500 Kurdish families who had converted to Christianity.
“Afrin avoided most of the fighting from the Syrian civil war and was one of the more peaceful areas of Syria. In fact, refugees fleeing violence in other parts of Syria settled in Afrin,” Maenza told Kurdistan 24.
“While majority Kurdish, it had a diverse religious population that included Yezidis, Alawites and Christians living peacefully alongside Sunni Muslims,” she added. “They had the same religious freedom conditions we see through out the areas governed by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.”
“It was not until the Turkish invasion in January of 2018 that conditions changed. We now have reports of killings, kidnappings, detainments, rapes, forced conversion, destruction of religious sites for Yezidis and Christians, and now an arrest for apostasy,” she said.
The USCIRF earlier praised the religious diversity in northeast Syria in territory under the rule of the AANES, during a virtual hearing in June.
The Islamist group, Failaq Al-Sham, is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and is involved in multiple human rights abuses in Afrin.
On Thursday members of the group allegedly killed a Yezidi man, Nuri Jammu Omar Sharaf, in Afrin’s countryside.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the group stormed his house and “shot him dead for refusing to give them a sum of money” that it had demanded after he had sold his land.
Sharaf was earlier kidnapped by Turkish-backed factions, but released after paying large sums of money.
Editing by Laurie Mylroie