Annual Report: Syria 2013

May 29, 2013

Annual Report: Syria 2013

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  • Mohammed Haffar, who owned a sweet shop in Aleppo, was shot dead on 17 May. He was standing outside his shop when government forces opened fire on a demonstration.
  • Mo'az Lababidi, a 16-year-old schoolboy, was among 10 people shot dead on 25 May by security forces and plain-clothes militias. He was killed outside an Aleppo police station while walking in the funeral procession of four demonstrators similarly shot dead earlier that day.

Targeting the wounded and health workers

Government forces and militias hunted down injured civilians and opposition fighters, some of whom were also ill-treated in state hospitals. Government forces also targeted makeshift medical centres set up by the opposition to assist the wounded, and the volunteer doctors, nurses and paramedics who worked in them.

  • The burned, mutilated bodies of students Basel Aslan, Mus'ab Barad and Hazem Batikh, who belonged to a medical network assisting injured protesters, were found in Aleppo on 24 June, a week after Air Force Intelligence officials detained them. Basel Aslan's hands were tied behind his back; he had been tortured and shot in the head.
  • Osama al-Habaly was reportedly arrested on 18 August by Syrian Military Intelligence at the Syrian-Lebanese border while returning home from receiving medical treatment in Lebanon. His family was told that he had been tortured, but they received no official information about his fate.

Repression of dissent

The government maintained tight controls on freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Government security forces and militiamen detained thousands of people during demonstrations, raids on homes and house-to-house searches during military clampdowns. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people were held incommunicado in conditions that amounted to enforced disappearance, often in undisclosed and sometimes makeshift detention centres, where torture and other abuses were rife and committed with impunity. Those detained included political and human rights activists, journalists, bloggers, humanitarian workers and imams. Some were convicted and sentenced after unfair trials, including before military and special courts.

  • Prominent human rights lawyer Khalil Ma'touq and his friend Mohammed Thatha went missing on 2 October while travelling through security forces' checkpoints in Damascus. Their families were told that they were being held incommunicado at a State Security branch in Damascus.
  • Four women – Ru'a Ja'far, Rima Dali and sisters Kinda al-Za'our, and Lubna al-Za'our – were held for seven weeks after their arrest by security officials on 21 November while walking in a Damascus street dressed as brides and calling for an end to violence in Syria.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, including children, were widespread and committed with impunity by government forces and associated militias seeking to extract information or “confessions” and to terrorize or punish suspected government opponents. Methods included severe beatings, suspension by the limbs, being suspended in a tyre, electric shocks and rape and other sexual abuse. Detainees were often held in very cramped, insanitary conditions and denied medical treatment or even abused by medical staff.

  • Salameh Kaileh, a Palestinian journalist with Jordanian nationality, was tortured by Air Force Intelligence officers after being arrested at his home in Damascus on 24 April, apparently because of a Facebook conversation and his possession of a left-wing publication. He was whipped on the soles of his feet and insulted. On 3 May he was moved to a military hospital, where he and others were beaten, insulted and denied access to toilets and medication. He was deported to Jordan on 14 May.

Some opposition armed groups also tortured and otherwise ill-treated members of the security forces or government supporters following capture.

Deaths in custody

At least 550 people, including children, were reported to have died in custody, most apparently as a result of torture or other ill-treatment. Many of those who died were suspected government opponents. Nobody was brought to justice for causing the deaths of detainees.