Syria’s Criminal Court may sentence accused persons and issue judgments to seize their properties in absentia, placing those properties under the control of administrative authorities.
The Criminal Court handles cases with a criminal nature, in which the penalty for convicted persons is over three years. The court must apply the principles of Criminal Procedure Law No. 112 of 1950.
Conviction in absentia
Within eight days of the Criminal Court issuing a judgment in absentia against someone accused of a felony, a summary of that judgment is published in the Official Gazette. The decision must also be published in one of the state newspapers and on the door of the convicted person’s residence.
This judgment in absentia will be considered adequate starting the day following its publication in the Official Gazette under Article 330 of Criminal Procedure Law No. 112 of 1950. And according to Law No. 112, such publication is only for judgments issued in absentia.
An in-absentia judgment may be issued against a convict who has “escaped justice”–this means any accused person for whom an investigating or referral judge has issued an indictment before transferring the case to the criminal court but who refused to appear before the criminal court within the deadline granted to them.
Under Law No. 112 of 1950, the accused person is granted ten days to appear before the court, starting from the date they were notified of their indictment by the investigating judge. If they do not appear, the Criminal Court may decide to grant an additional 10 days, after which they are considered a fugitive if they still do not attend. At this point, the accused is stripped of their civil rights and their assets are left the disposal of the government and administrative authorities.
Any act of disposal that the fugitive may at this point take with their real estate properties or other assets is considered null. Meanwhile, the Public Prosecutor now informs the head of the Land Registry to place a precautionary seizure on the convicted person’s properties, afterwards notifying the Department of State Properties within the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform of the move. All this is done to pressure the convicted person to hand themself in.
It is worth noting that, from time to time, the Official Gazette publishes criminal judgments made in absentia by ordinary criminal courts against people convicted in “terrorism” cases. Those accused of terrorism are not only tried before the Antiterrorism Court, which was established under Law No. 22 of 2012, but also before the ordinary criminal courts. There are no clear criteria for distinguishing between the cases that may be raised in one court versus another. However, it appears that some such cases go to the criminal courts in order to relieve pressure on the Antiterrorism Court.
A judgment issued in absentia by the Criminal Court for terrorism cases also includes placing the convicted person’s assets under state administration. This is done according to certain procedures laid out for managing the assets of convicts after appointing a trustee.
Managing the assets of someone convicted in absentia
The spouse, minor children and parents of a convict in absentia, may receive monthly stipends from the proceeds of the convict’s seized assets. The Civil Court determines the size of these stipends. A personal claimant may also obtain a decision issued by that same court to receive temporary compensation.
When managing the assets of someone convicted in absentia, the state follows Personal Status Law No. 59 of 1953, delegating management of the funds to a trustee appointed by a judge from the Sharia Court. All actions taken by this trustee are considered valid so long as they follow the rules for trusteeship detailed in Law No. 59. Under this law, the trustee may not dispose of a convict’s assets through buying, selling or other acts of disposal.
Relinquishing convictions in absentia
If a judgment in absentia is relinquished by the statute of limitations or if the accused person is declared innocent after their arrest, a retrial or handing them over, their assets are returned to them. The trustee must then provide them with an account of all administrative actions that have been taken regarding those assets. This means that a Criminal Court’s seizure of the assets belonging to a person convicted in absentia of “terrorism” constitutes a temporary measure and does not entitle the court to dispose of those assets and other properties. This measure differs from freezing or confiscating an accused person’s assets, according to procedures followed by the Antiterrorism Court.