Human Rights Group: Syria Is 'Persecuting Its Own People On A Vast Scale'

August 30, 2011

Eyder Peralta

From a Facebook page created about Hamza.

In a report released today by human rights group Amnesty International, Syria is described to be in the middle of a brutal crackdown. The report alleges that amid protests, more people are being detained and more people are dying behind bars.

"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.

"The accounts of torture we have received are horrific. We believe the Syrian government to be systematically persecuting its own people on a vast scale."

Amnesty International estimates that 88 people have been killed in detention since the protests began five months ago. The group has collected the names of more than 1,800 who have died on the streets. "Thousands of others have been arrested," they report, "with many held incommunicado at unknown locations at risk of torture or death."

The report, which is worth flipping through, also tells the story of those detained. The victims were all male and include 10 children, some as young as 13.

The story of Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, 13, is already well known. Mark has written about him before, when he was called a "child martyr" and when protests were called in his name.

Amnesty International looked at forensic evidence and spoke to people "close to" Hamza to piece together what happened. Here's a bit of their narrative; be warned some of it is graphic:

Pro-reformists declared 29 April to be "Break the siege Friday". According to information provided by Syrian human rights activists and people close to the family, 13-year-old Hamza Ali al-Khateeb joined many hundreds of people from al-Jeeza and other villages around Dera'a in peaceful marches towards the city in a symbolic attempt to break the blockade. The protesters were attacked by Syrian security forces, who reportedly shot at them near the Saida military compound and arrested several hundred people. Hamza Ali al-Khateeb is one of many who went missing. He was later reported to be held by Air Force Intelligence. On 24 May the family received a phone call to say there was a body in the al-Jeeza Hospital morgue which they should see, and a relative of Hamza Ali al-Khateeb went there and identified his body. According to publicly available video images and confidential material made available to Amnesty International, there were injuries to his face, head and back and his penis had been cut off. A forensic pathologist consulted by Amnesty International reviewed video evidence and concluded that the boy seemed to have suffered a "blunt force injury to the face" as well as bluish discoloured lesions with a central darker area on chest and right hand side of the abdomen, which could "represent entrance wounds".

The Syrian government denies that it tortured Hamza.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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