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Ali al-Shehabi, Peaceful Activist

Ali al-Shehabi is a Syrian writer of Palestinian parents who lived in Yarmouk Camp, a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. A liberal thinker, he spent 10 years in prison after the security forces arrested him in 1982 on the false accusation of being a member of the Communist Party. Upon his release in 1992, Ali started publicly advocating secular democratic principles, and managed to obtain a permit from the Syrian authorities to establish a new political party, which he called “Syria For All.”  Despite his permit, in 2006, government forces arrested him for establishing the party and detained him for six months.

“Ali was a peaceful activist and a free thinker,” a relative told Human Rights Watch. “He resented the way that the Syrian uprising had turned into an armed conflict.” Before his arrest, the relative said, “Ali spent so much time and energy inside Yarmouk Camp advocating for dialogue and against the use of arms.”

After the uprising began, Ali lobbied field hospitals in Yarmouk Camp to admit the wounded without hindrance. He acted as a mediator between the pro-government Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose General Command was in Yarmouk, and Yarmouk-based members of the opposition Free Syrian Army. The Syrian security forces arrested Ali for the third time on December 19, 2012, before he was able to negotiate an agreement.

Ali’s family used government connections to locate him at the Military Intelligence Palestine Branch in Qazzaz, Damascus. “The security forces at the Palestine branch told us they would release him in two days, but we never saw him,” the relative said. “They later told us they had released him, but we still haven’t seen him. All we want now is to know whether he is still alive.”

Update: On April 21, a relative informed Human Rights Watch that the Syrian authorities responded on December 2013 to an inquiry by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances acknowledging Ali al-Shehabi’s arrest and stating that “he was arrested on the base of suspicions about his activities, and he is still under investigation by the competent judicial authorities.” The family does not have any further information about his whereabouts. 

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