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Response to BBC Panorama allegations in short

Read our detailed response here.

We are deeply disappointed by the incorrect and misleading allegations raised by BBC Panorama in its Jihadis You Pay For broadcast on 4th December, regarding the Access to Justice and Community Security (AJACS). AJACS supports unarmed community policing in Syria, bringing safety and security to Syrians living in fear of terror and extremism.

Panorama’s allegations are a mix of false, unsubstantiated and misrepresentative statements, provided by witnesses with established records of unethical and deceptive behaviour. The allegations have real potential to damage Syrian communities, which depend on the Free Syrian Police as their only provider of moderate safety and security services and the first line of defence against extremism in northern Syria.

Panorama’s allegations include the following (with our responses in italics):

  1. That corruption was endemic in AJACS and not addressed by Adam Smith International (ASI): This is false, and Panorama provided not a single example or any item of evidence to support its claim that corruption was endemic in the programme. It relied, instead, upon unsubstantiated statements from people with a history of fraud, deception and extortion. We alerted Panorama to the risk of relying on such witnesses. It ignored our advice.
  2. That the AJACS project is funded by ‘bags of cash’: This is false. The project is not funded by ‘bags of cash’ AJACS and FSP use remote cash transfer systems to pay stipends, rather than transporting cash. Panorama has been informed of this fact but chose not to communicate it in its report.
  3. That AJACS’s stipend lists included fictitious police officers: This is false. All 57 police officers of Koknaya were identified with valid IDs, as recognised by Panorama, and accounted for on multiple occasions throughout 2016 and 2017. Their location moved, as is normal with FSP officers who regularly move between stations to respond to changing security needs. Koknaya’s closure in September 2017 reflected a reduced population in Koknaya. None of the FSP officers’ stipends were suspended as claimed by Panorama.
  4. That AJACS funding was used to support the armed group Nour al Din al Zinki (Zinki). This is misleading. When AJACS first began, Zinki was not considered by the international community as a terrorist group. AJACS and the donors were aware of Zinki pressure on the FSP and donors chose to resolve interference with Zinki directly rather than withdrawing community policing from communities. This was successful and by mid-2016 Zinki had ceased interference.
  5. That AJACS supported police stations which cooperated with courts and detention centres which were committing human rights abuses: This is misleading. The FSP promotes alternative dispute resolution and is the widest provider of those services in northern Syria. It works to reduce the number of cases that have to be resolved by a court, and has a very strong reputation for upholding and protecting human rights. Panorama produced no evidence of the direct involvement of FSP officers in any human rights abuses.
  6. That UK taxpayers funds may have been used to pay Jabhat al Nusra (JN) sympathisers: This is misleading. A total of $1,800 of funding from another donor (not the UK) was diverted to JN, out of a $20 million programme. This was discussed extensively with donors. Panorama stated that ASI was unable to explain how it could be sure this was not UK funding. In fact, this is very simple, and we explained this in detail to Panorama. The funding came from a separate donor, was delivered through a separate contract, and accounted for entirely separately.
  7. That ASI was aware FSP was co-operating with JN in human rights abuses: This is misleading. Panorama cites examples which did not involve officers under formal FSP control and were not receiving salaries through the AJACS programme. When concerns about human rights abuses were raised to AJACS, funding to these police stations was promptly suspended.
  8. That AJACS lacks accountability and scrutiny. This is false. AJACS is tightly managed under the close supervision of its six donor governments. Risks are documented formally in a risk register that records the assessment of probability and impact. Donors have consistently rated the project highly for its responsiveness, governance and operational effectiveness. It has been widely praised, including by the UK Foreign Secretary, and in local and international media including the BBC.

As noted above, we have serious concerns regarding the credibility of the BBC’s sources. The broadcast relied primarily on three key interviewees:

  • Tareq Al-Khahil, a former AJACS staff member, who was dismissed in April this year for professional misconduct, including fraud.
  • Waseem Enawi, a former AJACS staff member, who left the programme shortly after Tareq. After leaving he made allegations of corruption against the company and requested payment, threatening to take damaging allegations to the media. These allegations were investigated and are unsubstantiated. We made no payment to him as we refused to give in to extortion.
  • Yussef Houran, a lawyer, who applied for a job on AJACS in 2016, but who was rejected after he failed background checks.

We provided Panorama with all of this information well in advance of its broadcast, and are disappointed that it proceeded to broadcast inflammatory and sensationalist allegations based on the word of these unreliable sources.

We take human rights violations and corruption extremely seriously. We deplore the human rights abuses and violence of organisations such as Zinki and JN. AJACS exists to help counter such abuse and violence. Syrian communities have the right to human rights compliant justice services, and that is why AJACS supports the FSP: the only provider of moderate, non-extremist safety and security services for over 1.5 million Syrian men, women and children. British taxpayers have the right to know their money is being well spent, and that is why AJACS is one of the most tightly managed and carefully supervised programmes in operation. The BBC is not serving the Syrian people, nor the British taxpayer, with its sensationalist journalism.

Read our detailed response here.

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