Government Cancels Precautionary Asset Seizure for Hundreds of Daraa Opposition Figures, Though Thousands Remain

The end of June 2020 saw the Ministry of Finance cancel precautionary seizures of properties belonging to 617 former armed and civilian opposition leaders in Daraa, including Ahmad Al-Odeh, now commander of the Russian-backed 8th Brigade of the Syrian Army’s 5th Corps.

The move likely came to ease tensions in Daraa after a recent wave of popular protests over the economic and security situation in the province. Despite the cancelled property seizures, thousands of other people are still barred from selling their properties, however.

In the Syrian penal code, precautionary seizure of property is a way for a creditor to preserve his or her right by  preventing the targeted party from disposing of their property or money — whether in full or in part — until the end of the legal dispute or lawsuit. It is distinct from an executive seizure, which is a judicial order from the court in which the creditor seizes the movable and immovable properties of the debtor in order to recover debt or for the sale of the properties in a public auction.

Technically, imposing a provisional or executive seizure on properties of former opposition members is not legally permissible because the claimant does not have any debt owed from the targeted party, and the process is not based on any specific damage whose value can be estimated. In addition, trials and decisions are made in absentia, and the debtor or his agents are not allowed to attend the court. To overcome this legal dilemma, precautionary decisions are based on articles of Legislative Decree No. 63 of 2012. The decree gives judicial police authorities and others the right to request that the Ministry of Finance seize the movable and immovable properties for persons accused of "crimes against state security."

Despite the recent cancellation of precautionary property seizures of a few hundred former opposition members, thousands are estimated to still have their property under detention in Daraa governorate alone — especially in areas that witnessed widespread defections from the army and security services.

Procedures for seizing property in this way began on a large-scale and systematic basis in areas outside government control in 2012. Gradually, most regime opponents were included in these procedures, including those from Daraa — whether they resided abroad or had died during detention or battles and bombing in the southern governorate. In such cases, custody decisions prevented transfer of ownership to heirs.

The last known batch of similar property seizure decisions in Daraa was issued in September 2018, less than two months after the settlement agreement in southern Syria, signed between the opposition and the regime, with Russian sponsorship. The seizures are a violation of the terms of the agreement, which explicitly stipulated that opponents of the regime would not be prosecuted, and that their property not be threatened.