World·Updated

'Sharp rise' in reported Syria detainee deaths

A human rights group said it believes that at least 88 people, ten of them children, have died in detention in Syria during five months of anti-government protests.

Amnesty International says prisoner deaths reaching 'massive proportions'

A human rights group said it believes that at least 88 people, ten of them children, have died in detention in Syria during five months of anti-government protests.  

Some of the victims were as young as 13, Amnesty International said Tuesday. It said that in recent years the annual number of deaths behind Syrian bars has been about five.

Amnesty International says it has collected the names of 1,800 people reported to have died since pro-reform protests began. ((Associated Press))

"These deaths behind bars are reaching massive proportions, and appear to be an extension of the same brutal disdain for life that we are seeing daily on the streets of Syria," said Neil Sammonds, Amnesty International's researcher on Syria.

Sammonds also said the group had heard accounts of horrific torture. "We believe the Syrian government to be systematically persecuting its own people on a vast scale," he said.

Regime's raids continue to target protests

Syrian security forces searching for anti-government protesters raided houses in central Syria and made arrests, activists and residents said Wednesday.

The troops, backed by tanks and military vehicles, entered districts in Homs and Hama as part of efforts to crush five months of street protests against President Bashar Assad.

Wednesday's raids come a day after security forces killed seven people as thousands of protesters poured out of mosques and marched through cemeteries at the start of Eid al-Fitr, a holiday when Muslims traditionally visit graves and pray for the dead at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 473 people were killed during Ramadan, including 360 civilians and 113 members of the Syrian military and security forces. Among those killed, 25 were under 18 years of age, it said. Twenty-eight others died under torture or in detention during the holy month, the group said.

The victims, all men or boys, were arrested after mass protests began in March. All the victims are believed to have been detained because they were suspected of being involved in the protests, Amnesty said in a report.

In at least 52 of the cases there was evidence that torture or ill-treatment caused or contributed to the deaths, the report said.

The group said it had seen video clips relating to 45 of the cases, and had asked independent forensic pathologists to review a number of them. It said injuries on many of the bodies indicate the victims may have suffered beatings, burns, whippings, slashings and stabbings.

"The sharp rise in the number of reported deaths in custody has been one of the most shocking features of the government’s bloody crackdown on the protests," Amnesty said in the introduction to the report.

The report cited the case of Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old who disappeared April 29 during protests against the siege of Dera'a, and was later found dead with apparent blunt force injuries and a severed penis. Most of the cases in the report occurred in the Homs and Dera'a governorates, which have seen major protests.

Deaths in detention have also been reported in five other governorates — Damascus and Rif Damashq, Idlib, Hama and Aleppo, Amnesty said.

Syrian children carry pictures of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib and hold candles during a protest in front of the United Nations building in Beirut in June. ((Jamal Saidi/Reuters))

It also cited the case of a doctor from Aleppo, whose body —discovered by the side of a road a few days after his arrest —had broken ribs, arms and fingers, as well as gouged eyes and mutilated genitals.

Amnesty International has called on the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, to impose an arms embargo on Syria and to freeze the assets of President Bashar Assad and his senior officials.

"Taken in the context of the widespread and systematic violations taking place in Syria, we believe that these deaths in custody may include crimes against humanity," Sammonds said.

Amnesty International says it has compiled the names of more than 1,800 people reported to have died since pro-reform protests began. Thousands of others have been arrested, with many held incommunicado at unknown locations, according to the group.

The human rights group compiled its research based on reports from people who have fled Syria and others who are still in the country. Amnesty International said it has not been able to conduct first-hand research on the ground in Syria this year.

With files from CBC News

now