Broadcasted during the month of Ramadan on two Syrian and one Emirati TV channels, this police drama was undoubtedly watched by a large number of viewers because of coronavirus containment measures. "It seems the production team could not find better than using photos showing the accomplishments of the criminal regime to convince the viewers of its brutality," denounced an activist on social media.
In one of the scenes from an episode broadcasted on April 27, two characters were seen discussing an unsolved case of a murder victim and flipping through a file in which appears the photo of Rihab, with the number 2935 and Branch 215
written on her forehead. In fact, the shot was taken from among tens of thousands of photographs of victims who were tortured to death by the repressive Syrian regime. The bodies of the victims were photographed by “Caesar," a former member of the Syrian military police who fled the country with all of this evidence in 2013. After Caesar's pictures were published, an ex-inmate was able in March 2015 to spot among the bodies, the pyjama bottom of Rihab Allawi. She was then identified by her family.
Allawi is the only woman photographed by "Caesar" to have been officially identified. She has since become an icon of the revolution whose portrait was repeatedly brandished during demonstrations in support of the release of prisoners held by the regime. Originally from the countryside of Deir ez-Zor, this 25-year-old civil engineering student was arrested at her home by the “mukhabarat” (intelligence services) in January 2013, because of her activism in support of displaced people from Homs. She was accused of "terrorism" for having participated in the kidnapping of an officer.
In a 2015 interview with the opposition news site Deirezzor24, one of Rihab's brothers said the Free Syrian Army, with whom the young woman collaborated to help provide health care and distribute medicines, allegedly asked his sister to contact the officer and make him come to a location where he was to be ambushed.
After the young woman disappeared, her relatives paid more than 12 million Syrian pounds in exchange for information about her fate. But to no avail. An army officer seized the opportunity to extract more than $180,000 from them after he promised to free Rihab and take her to Turkey. Later, they were told that she was in Lebanon and her brother, Hamza, spent several months looking for her in refugee camps there, before realizing it was a scam. Much later, the state security branch informed the Allawis that Rihab died in detention after she suffered a stroke. Typical of the Syrian regime.
As the trial of Anwar Raslan, a former colonel accused of crimes against humanity and of torture, began in Germany last week, the photo of the young woman, taken by "Caesar" and deliberately used by the government-run Syrian television, reopened old wounds. Bashar Assad himself had previously mocked and dismissed the "Caesar" files in an interview with Foreign Affairs magazine, describing them as "allegations without evidence." The regime has always denied all such accusations, maintaining that it was incapable of such actions and instead was protecting its population against terrorist groups (describing as such all the opposition groups).
Internally, the regime has resorted to all tactics to remind the Syrians what it is capable of and how far it can go, in total impunity, in order to deter potential protesters. This TV scene could serve that purpose and it is not the Syrian regime’s first such provocation. Other images of victims have been used in television works such as in "The Tribune of the Dead" produced in 2013. The father of a young boy named Alaa Fawaz described how he came across the picture of his son in the background of one of the scenes. The 6-year-old boy was killed a few months earlier by a shrapnel during shelling by pro-government forces in Sbeineh, in eastern Ghuta. But in the TV series, one of the characters explains that the "terrorists" were the ones who killed him.
In addition, several films and series have ridiculed the famous "White Helmets," the Syrian Civil Defence volunteer organisation that operates in parts of opposition-controlled Syria and in Turkey, accusing them of being in the pay of foreign governments wishing to bring down the regime.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 60th of April)