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Behind the ‘vanishing’ of a Syrian chess champ and her children in Assad jails

Published: Updated:

During Syria’s seven years of war, many stories of forced disappearances and those who were arbitrarily detained have emerged.

However, the story of Syrian detainee Rania al-Abbasi and her family is perhaps one of the most ominous.

It began with Abbasi’s husband, Abdulrahman Yassin, who was arrested from his home in the Dummar district of Damascus on March 9, 2013.

The next day, security forces returned to his home again with him, looting all the gold and money in the house, as well as seizing three cars, computers and mobile phones, along with passports and documents proving real estate ownership.

According to this account, provided by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), a non-governmental and non-profit organization working since 2011 to document violations, security officials told Abbasi that they would “return the next day to take her and her children.”

Abbasi was a dentist and renowned chess player.

“Well-respected in her community, she was determined to stay in Damascus and help those in need,” according to Amnesty International.

On 11 March 2013, security forces arrested Abbasi with her six children and her secretary, who was in her house that day by chance. During the arrest, the men collected six bags containing personal belongings for her and her children.

Rania’s children were 14, 13, 11, eight, six and almost two years old at the time of the arrest. Their names are Dima, Entisar, Najah, Alaa, Ahmad and Layan.

“The reason for her arrest may be the result of her position on what was happening in the country or because of theft charges, according to the data we have,” Nour al-Khatib, head of SNHR’s forced disappearances department told Al Arabiya English.

Khatib said that one of the men who stormed her home, along with a member of the security forces, had been a patient of Abbasi’s at her clinic, and may have been aware of the family’s comfortable financial situation.

Who arrested them?

According to the SNHR, more than 20 military security forces carried out the arrest. They were armed and wore military uniform.

One of those who were known to Abbasi was allegedly named Abu Kadhim. He was reportedly treated for free at her clinic and was regularly in touch with the family.

Until now, Syrian authorities have refused to provide any information about what happened to Abbasi and her family, or where they are now. The SNHR fears for their fate, and cannot rule out the possibility of their murder.

‘Abbasi doesn’t exist’

“The information concerning the circumstances of the arrest of Abbasi and her family and secretary is solely from her family,” Khatib said, expressing hopes they are still alive. “But this is not a strong possibility, especially as their names were not registered in any security branch after their arrest.”

Khatib and her colleagues in the network, along with some UN officials, have called for more information on the family, but the response has been “nonexistent,” Khatib said.