19-Year-Old Assyrian Woman Detained by SDF Forces in Northeast Syria

Updated: Aug 14


The API is alarmed by reports that Samira Habsono, a 19-year-old Assyrian woman from Qamishli, was detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on August 1, 2022 and falsely accused of espionage for the Syrian Government. In the two weeks since her arrest, no charges or evidence have been presented. She has been held incommunicado and has been denied access to legal counsel. According to family members, Habsono is being held at the SDF-run al-Baytarih women's prison in the city of Al-Hasakah. She has yet to appear before a judge.


Qamishli is located in Al-Hasakah Governorate in Syria and is currently under the de facto control of the Kurdish-led self-governing administration known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). The Democratic Union Party (PYD), an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey, has effectively ruled the region since Syrian Government forces withdrew from the area in 2012, running a local administration with courts, prisons, and police. The region is militarily controlled by the People's Protection Units (YPG), a mainly-Kurdish militia in Syria and the primary component of the SDF.


According to family members, who spoke to the API by phone, Habsono was arrested when she reported to the local security office after receiving a phone call about a job opening. Her father was turned away from al-Baytarih prison when he attempted to visit her on August 13, and an attorney for the family has reportedly had a visitation application denied. Family members have expressed concerns for her safety and well-being, citing widespread reports of violent, unsanitary, and inhumane conditions in SDF-run prisons.


Samira Habsono is the daughter of Gabi Habsono, a prominent Assyrian activist and outspoken critic of AANES policies towards Assyrians. Gabi Habsono is affiliated with the Sootoro, a Syrian Government-aligned, regional-based militia comprised of Assyrians and a small number of Armenians operating in Qamishli. According to reports, Sootoro forces have routinely faced pressure to integrate into SDF forces, which Gabi Habsono has opposed.


"No charges have been brought forward and the reasons for her arrest remain unclear," said API Executive Director Reine Hanna. "Despite the reported allegations, we believe that the arrest of Samira Habsono may be politically-motivated. If this is the case, this young woman should be released immediately and unconditionally."


A 2014 report by Human Rights watch, “Under Kurdish Rule: Abuses in PYD-Run Enclaves of Syria,” documents arbitrary arrests of the PYD’s political opponents, abuse in detention, and unsolved abductions and murders. Last month, the SDF unlawfully detained an Assyrian woman in Derik named Rasha Chamoun; she was released after being held for eight days.


AANES authorities should either release Habsono or provide details and evidence to support the allegations. The API calls upon authorities within the AANES to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Samira Habsono from SDF custody, unless she is to be charged promptly with a recognizable criminal offense, in line with international law and standards;

  • Ensure that pending her release, she is not subject to torture and other ill-treatment and is allowed access to a lawyer, to family visit, and to adequate medical attention as needed;

  • End all forms of intimidation and harassment, in particular by the YPG, against Assyrians and other marginalized populations in northeastern Syria.

Call-To-Action:

  • Write to the Syrian Democratic Council's U.S. Mission urging them to immediately release Samira Habsono

  • Tweet AANES and SDF officials urging them to immediately release Samira Habsono