UN Urges Syrian Government to Release All Activists

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Thursday, February 19, 2015

The UN human rights chief on Thursday urged the Syrian authorities to release all activists, lawyers and other detainees they have been holding without due process, including some jailed for years.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein claimed that between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people have been held at some point in government jails since the first anti-regime protests erupted in Syria nearly four years ago.

"I urge the Syrian government to immediately release all those who have been jailed for peaceful expression of their views and to ensure that all those detained are accorded their full due process rights," Hussein said in a statement.

He made a special plea for the release of prominent lawyer Mazen Darwish, who was arrested on February 16, 2012 along with Hani Zaitani and Hussein Ghreir, his colleagues at the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM).

"Last month, their trial was postponed for the sixth time with no new hearing date set," Hussein said.

"In many cases, people are held incommunicado for weeks or months, in particular by Political Security, State Security, Military Security and Air Force Intelligence branches," Hussein added.

"This is particularly worrying given the Syrian government's record of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, which has been well-documented prior to, and during, the conflict," the high commissioner said.

Hussein’s office said forces linked to the government have allegedly abducted activists at checkpoints throughout the country before holding them in their own facilities where they face torture and ill-treatment.

Hussein said detainees who were released reported that they were held in cells of no more than six meters by seven meters at the Political Security Branch, with up to 55 prisoners per cell and without enough food or medical care.

"They described the use of torture rooms and equipment as well as the extreme cruelty of interrogators," he said.

Human rights groups in the past few days have launched a new campaign to free Syrian activists held by the government and rebels as they mark the third anniversary of Darwish’s arrest.

On February 10, Syrian activists accused Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) of detaining a group of their colleagues, in what they said was the latest in a string of abuses.

Rebel groups have seized thousands of Syrians, including prominent activists known as the Douma Four — Razan Zeitouneh, Wael Hamada, Samira Khalil and Nazem al-Hamadi — who were abducted in December 2013 in the rebel-held area of Douma outside Damascus.

Jaysh al-Islam is currently the most powerful rebel group operating in the Eastern Ghouta area, east of Damascus. It was formed by a merger of rebel factions in 2013 and has received backing from Saudi Arabia.

The Syrian conflict began as a peaceful revolt demanding democratic change, but evolved into a brutal war after government forces violently repressed demonstrators. Islamists have since poured into the country from all over the world, seeking to establish an “Islamic caliphate.”

More than 210,000 people have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the country's conflict, and half of Syria’s population of 22 million has been forced to flee their homes.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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