The horrifying experiences of detainees subjected to rampant torture and other ill-treatment in Syrian prisons are laid bare in a damning new report published by Amnesty International yesterday which estimates that 17,723 people have died in custody in Syria since the crisis began in March 2011 – an average rate of more than 300 deaths each month.
‘It breaks the human’: Torture, disease and death in Syria’s prisons documents crimes against humanity committed by government forces. It retraces the experiences of thousands of detainees through the cases of 65 torture survivors who described appalling abuse and inhuman conditions in security branches operated by Syrian intelligence agencies and in Saydnaya Military Prison, on the outskirts of Damascus. Most said they had witnessed prisoners dying in custody and some described being held in cells alongside dead bodies.
"They treated us like animals. They wanted people to be as inhuman as possible," said Samer, a lawyer from Hama who was among those interviewed.
"I saw the blood, it was like a river... I never imagined humanity would reach such a low level."
Another inmate, Ziad (not his real name), described how seven people died in one day after the ventilation stopped working at an intelligence agency detention centre.
"They began to kick us to see who was alive and who wasn't," Ziad said.
Other detainees described being forced into a rubber tire or whipped on the soles of their feet. Amnesty says prisoners are routinely denied access to medical care and prevented from washing properly.
“The catalogue of horror stories featured in this report depicts in gruesome detail the dreadful abuse detainees routinely suffer from the moment of their arrest, through their interrogation and detention behind the closed doors of Syria’s notorious intelligence facilities. This journey is often lethal, with detainees being at risk of death in custody at every stage,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“For decades, Syrian government forces have used torture as a means to crush their opponents. Today, it is being carried out as part of a systematic and widespread attack directed against anyone suspected of opposing the government in the civilian population and amounts to crimes against humanity. Those responsible for these heinous crimes must be brought to justice.
More than 250,000 people have died in almost five years of war in Syria, with a further 11 million people displaced by the conflict, according to the UN.