In the decade since Syria’s regime pronounced her jailed husband dead, Ramya al-Sous was threatened by security forces, locked out of her spouse’s estate and forced to flee abroad. The mother of three, now a refugee living in Lebanon, was never told how her husband died and is unable to sell or rent the properties confiscated by authorities. “By virtue of me being a woman, everything becomes nearly impossible,” she told AFP, echoing a plight shared by many wives and widows of Syrian prisoners. But the 40-year-old wants to put up a fight. “My children wouldn’t have suffered as much if it had been me who was detained. They were left with nothing, but I insist on winning something back,” she said. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime waged a brutal crackdown on an Arab Spring-inspired uprising in 2011, sparking a war that has killed nearly half a million people. Around the same number of people, mostly men, are estimated to have been detained in regime prisons since, with tens of thousands dying either under torture or due to poor conditions. Outside prison walls, their wives are anything but free, facing a maze of red tape in a society and legal system that favours men, said Ghazwan Kronfol, a Syrian lawyer living in Istanbul. Without their husbands’ formal death certificates, widows cannot claim inheritance or property ownership, he said. Nor can they access their dead husbands’ real estate if it was confiscated or escrowed by the state, the lawyer added. Worse still, guardianship over their children is not guaranteed, with judges often granting it to a male next of kin. “All of this comes on top of financial blackmail and sexual harassment” by security officers, Kronfol said. Syria’s 2012 anti-terrorism law stipulates the government can temporarily or permanently seize the properties of prisoners accused of terrorism — a blanket charge used to detain civilians suspected of opposition links. The government is believed to have seized $1.54 billion worth of prisoner assets since 2011, according to an April report by The Association of Detainees and The Missing in Sednaya Prison. The Turkey-based watchdog was founded by former detainees held in Sednaya, a jail on the outskirts of Damascus which is the largest in the country and has become a by-word for torture and the darkest abuses of the Syrian regime. Sous’s home and farmland were among the properties escrowed after her husband was arrested in a raid in 2013 and later hit with terrorism-related charges she says were trumped up. A few months later, authorities handed her a “corpse number”, she said. Alone and poor, she spent years being bounced around from one security branch to another as she tried to clear bureaucratic hurdles. Sous said she was met mainly with harassment and intimidation. “Women are easy prey,” she said. Fearing persecution by security forces, she fled to neighbouring Lebanon in 2016, clutching the old red and white plastic bag in which she keeps her property deeds and reams of other official documents. She has little money left but continues to pay bribes and lawyer fees in an attempt to reclaim assets from the state. “I want to sell them, not for me but for my children.” Salma, a 43-year-old mother of four, also fled to Lebanon after her husband disappeared inside the black hole of Syria’s prison system. The one time she enquired about his fate in 2015, security forces locked her in a room and threatened her. “I never asked about him again,” Salma said, asking to use a pseudonym due to security concerns. When she tried to sell her husband’s car and home, she found they had been seized by the state.