The procedures and rulings for terrorism cases differ between Syria’s criminal courts and the Antiterrorism Court with regard to seizing and disposing of accused persons’ assets and real estate. The two courts also are granted different powers and provide various safeguards in trials.
The Ordinary Judiciary, to which the criminal courts belong, has the original jurisdiction to consider all instances and cases of a criminal character, which includes terrorism cases. Syrian authorities have a broad interpretation of terrorism and apply the charge to many of its political opponents, including civilians. Articles 304 to 306 of Penal Code No. 148 of 1949 include terrorism cases within the list of crimes against the state’s internal security.
However, since the Baath Party came to power in 1963, the criminal courts have gradually lost their jurisdiction over such cases in favour of exceptional courts (e.g. state security courts) that do not respect due process or certain legal safeguards. This process culminated in 2012 with the passage of Law No. 22, which established the Antiterrorism Court. This new court is tasked with implementing Antiterrorism Law No. 19 of 2012, which repealed Articles 304 to 306 of the Penal Code.
The powers of the two courts
The powers of the Antiterrorism Court are considered absolute in every stage of a trial, without accounting for due process or guaranteeing the defendant’s rights. Article 7 of Law No. 22 of 2012 exempts the Antiterrorism Court from adhering to the procedures outlined in Criminal Procedure Law No. 112 of 1950.
The Antiterrorism Court’s powers extend to hearing all terrorism cases considered by other courts. Article 8 of Law No. 22 of 2012 states explicitly: “Terrorism cases being considered before all other courts in their current state shall be transferred to the newly established court.” This measure gives priority to the Antiterrorism Court in hearing terrorism crimes cases.
At the same time, criminal courts may hear some terrorism cases, albeit on an exceptional basis, to ease the Antiterrorism Court’s workload. Unlike the Antiterrorism Court, the criminal courts are bound to implement the judicial procedures stipulated in Criminal Procedure Law No. 112 of 1950.
Judgments in absentia and retrials
In cases where the accused person turns themself in or is arrested, judgments made in absentia in ordinary criminal courts may be cancelled and a retrial held. This principle applies to all criminal cases with judgments made in absentia, including terrorism cases.
However, the Antiterrorism Court is not required to retry a person who has been judged in absentia unless they voluntarily surrender themself to the court.
Disposing of accused persons’ properties
The two courts also differ in handling the assets and real estate belonging to persons accused of terrorism. The Antiterrorism Court’s authority is absolute in such cases, starting with the decision by the public prosecutor to seize all the defendant’s movable and immovable assets (even those unrelated to the crime), whether they were tried following an arrest or tried in absentia.
When the Antiterrorism Court issues a ruling against a defendant (whether they were present in the court or the verdict was made in absentia), all of their movable and immovable assets are permanently confiscated. The assets then go to the state treasury, according to the confiscation procedures followed by the Ministry of Finance.
However, ordinary criminal courts do not issue asset seizures for those tried in absentia for terrorism until the defendant has been given a 10-day notice to appear before the court. If they fail to appear, the court orders a seizure of their properties through the public prosecutor, who sends a letter to the Directorate of Cadastral Affairs to place a precautionary seizure notice on their real estate records. The prosecutor also sends a letter to the State Properties Department to prepare for the trial in absentia.
When a criminal court issues a verdict in absentia against a defendant, their properties are placed at the state’s disposal. However, the state’s role is limited to managing these assets according to the relevant procedures. The court appoints a trustee to undertake this task, meaning that the assets do not belong to the state treasury. The state may return these assets to the convicted person in cases where the in absentia statute of limitations has been reached or if they are announced innocent after surrendering themselves or facing arrest and retrial. Here, the state trustee must present to the defendant a report on the administration of the seized properties.