Canadian citizen Arar being tortured in Syrian prison, says group"
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
ADVERTISEMENT OTTAWA (CP) - The federal government will investigate claims that a Canadian citizen has been beaten with sticks and cables and tortured by electric shocks while being held without charges in a Syrian jail.
Claims that Maher Arar has been tortured were made by a London-based organization called the Syrian Human Rights Committee.
"Mr. Arar has received heavy and severe torture at the initial stage of interrogation," says a letter sent to Arar's wife by the rights group. "At present, he receives torture and abuse from time to time as a daily routine of the Syrian prison practices against political detainees." Arar's Tunisian-born wife said Wednesday she was disturbed by the reports.
She demanded his immediate return to Canada. "It is an emotional shock to know my husband has been through severe torture - different kinds of awful torture," said Monia Mazigh. "But it's not very surprising coming from a country (accused of such abuses) by Amnesty International." Mazigh wants him home. "My husband has been simply kidnapped and sent to a country where he's practically dying in a jail without medical care, without a lawyer, without anything," she said. "His place is here with his family, with his children. Not there in a jail."
Syria has refused to let Canadian officials see Arar since April, when two Liberal MPs visited the Ottawa telecommunications engineer and saw him crying. Punishment includes electric shocks, the occasional beating with sticks and "torture, torment and humiliation" during routine rituals like bathing and shaving, the letter said.
The federal government will ask its Damascus embassy to investigate the claims of torture, said Reynald Doiron, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Department. Canadian officials saw no evidence of bodily torture during several visits with Arar, Doiron said. "Every time we saw him, from the first time to the last, he showed no external signs of physical harm. "There was no outburst and he seemed to be coping well, considering the circumstances." But no Canadians have seen him since Liberal MPs Marlene Catterall and Sarkis Assadourian visited on April 22.
Arar, a citizen of both Canada and Syria, is accused of having links to al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. But he has not been charged since his detention last Sept. 26, when U.S. officials at New York City's Kennedy Airport stopped him while he was returning to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia. He was accused of having links to al-Qaida and, because of his dual citizenship, the Americans deported him to Syria. He had not visited his home country since immigrating to Canada at age 17 in 1988.
Subsequent reports indicate the Syrians accuse Arar of involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist organization banned in that country. Amnesty International, the international human-rights organization, has accused Syrian officials of detaining and even massacring political opponents in the name of stopping the Muslim Brotherhood.
Syrian authorities have not responded to a recent letter from Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who asked that Arar be released if he isn't charged. Syria insists it will eventually charge Arar with being a threat to national security, even if no formal accusations have been made during his 10-month detention. Canadian officials have also been assured that they will be allowed to see Arar - "but no timeline has been given," Doiron said. Copyright 2003 The Canadian Press