Syria: thousands of detainees lost in ‘black hole’

Tens of thousands who peacefully demonstrated against President Bashar Assad are languishing in Syrian prisons, subjected to a policy of torture, according to a new Human Rights Watch report, “Lost in Syria’s Black Hole.” Citing testimony from former prisoners, HRW found that detainees have been raped and abused, including with electric shocks to the genitals, and beaten with batons, cables, metal rods, and wires. HRW stated: “The systematic use of torture by the government is strong evidence of state policy which would constitute crimes against humanity. Concerned governments need to make clear that the Syrian government and those responsible for the abuse will ultimately face justice for their actions.” HRW also called on the Syrian government drop charges against political detainees who are currently before the military field courts or special counterterrorism courts.

“The authorities jail political detainees for months without charge, and torture, mistreat, and prevent them from communicating with their lawyers or families, leaving their families desperate to know what has happened to them,” HRW said. Most detainees have been men but women and children “have not been spared,” the report charged. The report also cited figures by the Violations Documentation Center, a Syrian opposition monitoring group, that 1,200 people have died in Syrian prisons since the uprising began. 

HRW highlighted 21 individual cases, including 34-year-old Yehia Shorbaji, a construction worker from a Damascus suburb who became known as “the man with the roses” for having presented flowers to soldiers in the first months of the uprising. Government officials have refused to give Shorbaji’s family any information about him or his brother Mohamed since they and three other activists in a group called Daraya Youth were arrested in September 2011. One of the five, Ghiyath Mattar, died in custody within days of his arrest. 

Syrian authorities decline comment on individual prisoners but deny holding political prisoners and say many of those arrested during the uprising violated terrorism laws. (Reuters, Oct. 5; Jurist, ReliefWeb, Oct. 3)

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