ALEPPO, Syria — An opposition government in Idlib backed by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a coalition of Islamist factions, has imposed Islamic Sharia's hirabah law, which calls for severe retribution for lawbreakers.
The Ministry of Justice of the Syrian Salvation Government — formed last year as an alternative to the opposition's Syrian Interim Government — decreed adherence to hirabah beginning Dec. 10. Mohammed Kabakbaji, the attorney general of Idlib in the Syrian Salvation Government, told Al-Monitor the decision will be applied in the ministry's courts.
Under hirabah law, perpetrators of abductions and armed robberies deserve to be executed, have their hands cut off or be exiled, depending on the crime. The government says its decree was based on the hirabah verse in the Quran: “The punishments of those who wage war against Allah and His Prophet and strive to spread disorder in the land are to execute them in an exemplary way or to crucify them or to amputate their hands and feet from opposite sides or to banish them from the land. Such is their disgrace in this world, and in the hereafter theirs will be an awful doom, save those who repent before you overpower them; you should know that Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Ever Merciful.”
Anyone found guilty of leading or being part of a gang carrying out abductions or armed robberies in Idlib province is subject to the death penalty, whether they are civilians or part of the military.
According to the text of the decision, hirabah can provide security and reassurance, and deter assaults on Muslims' sanctity. The decision comes in light of increasing robberies and kidnappings, the ministry said.
Officials and workers in relief and humanitarian organizations in Idlib province are being abducted more often by unknown people, officials say. Some organizations have had to suspend work as a result. In addition, unidentified armed groups are kidnapping rich people and demanding ransoms.
Opposition activists in Idlib hold armed factions responsible for a large number of these crimes, which occur most often in areas under their control, and abductors from outside the area wouldn't be able to escape because these factions have set up security checkpoints all around the vicinity.
The Arabic word hirabah means "piracy" or "unlawful warfare." Kabakbaji told Al-Monitor, “Hirabah can be defined as attacking passersby to steal their money by frightening them. The perpetrators’ force and power overwhelms victims, who are coerced into giving in to their fear and terror. This awful crime is off limits according to Islamic jurisprudence, given its severity. It is closest to armed robbery or robbery by violence and the formation of gangs of murder and abduction, which laws all around the world punish with the most severe penalties so as to deter criminals.”
He added, “Some ill-faith people have exploited the prevailing security conditions in the country and the war against regime forces and Shiite militias, in addition to the spread of weapons among civilians. They would ... commit some crimes here and there, until they finally formed gangs and started abducting for ransom and robbing people.”
Kabakbaji said, “They would even film themselves brutally torturing victims and send the videos to the victims’ loved ones, seeking ransom. In some cases, victims were murdered when a ransom wasn't provided, while others had their fingers cut off — acts that criminals have filmed and posted on social media.”
Such social media videos are unavailable and are being removed for their violent content.
Kabakbaji said "it's only natural" to punish criminals "in the same manner those perpetrators used in their crimes.” He added, “Punishment needs to be as severe as the circumstances require, especially since the country is at war and rebels are preoccupied with fighting and defending the country.”
He added, "Adopting hirabah certainly has its advantages, and its disadvantages are minimal considering the greater [good] that approving such a law serves. People’s lives and properties will finally be protected from the greed of criminals.”
However, opposition-affiliated judge Hussein Hamadeh told Al-Monitor the Justice Ministry was wrong to adopt hirabah. People shouldn't be punished with such cruelty, he said, considering the high unemployment, low living standards and chaotic environment in Idlib.
Lawyer Marwan Kaid also told Al-Monitor the decision was inappropriate. “Hirabah punishment is part of the Islamic Sharia and doesn't align with the requirements of the current situation in Idlib. There need to be other deterrent measures, such as imprisonment for long periods of time,” he said.
But Issam Khatib, a lawyer working in the Justice Ministry courts in Idlib, believes differently. He told Al-Monitor, “The decision to impose hirabah punishment has come at the right time. There are armed groups and gangs, namely those affiliated with the Islamic State [IS], hiding in Idlib, stealing and looting in order to survive. They attack civilians and justify their actions with incorrect interpretations of Islamic Sharia. For instance, such groups believe people in general in Idlib are apostates and thus they [the groups] are allowed to steal their money, abduct and even kill them if they [feel they] have to.”
Khatib said, “Hirabah punishment according to Islamic Sharia has several options, including execution, hand-cutting and exile, and these sanctions can reduce the security chaos in Idlib and be a deterrent punishment to prevent the gangs from carrying out such acts.”