INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE
AI Index MDE 24/031/2001 - News Service Nr. 161
Syria: Time to
break with legacy of torture and dehumanization
authorities should initiate an irreversible break with the heavy legacy of human rights
violations, starting by an immediate and unconditional release of all recently detained
prisoners of conscience," Amnesty International said today. Among these are the
leading opposition figure Riad al-Turk, independent members of parliament Riad Seif and
Mamun al-Humsi and other activists in civil society forums and human rights groups,
including the economist 'Aref Dalilah, a leading member of the Civil Society Forum, and
Kamal al-Labwani, a member of the council of the Committees for the Defence of Human
Rights in Syria. The organization calls also for the release of all prisoners held solely
for the peaceful expression of their political views, and the release of hundreds of other
political prisoners unless they are given prompt fair tri als.
The organization noted media reports of the transfer in July and August of around 500
prisoners from Tadmur Militray Prison. "We would welcome the transfer as a first step
towards redressing all violations inflicted on the prisoners over the years," said
Amnesty International. "However reports of the transfer could not be confirmed by the
authorities despite repeated requests by the organization."
In a report published today -- Syria - Tadmur Military Prison: torture, despair and
dehumanization -- Amnesty International paints a grim picture of an anachronistic
penitentiary institution so notorious for its culture of dehumanizing torture and
ill-treatment that it is referred to in Syria as the place where "the person who
enters is lost and the one who leaves is born." Among the thousands detained over the
years many have frequently been tortured while held in total isolation from the outside
world for months or years without charge or trial. Many thousands of families have been
kept in the dark about the fate of their relatives. Some, whose loved ones
"disappeared" after arrest, fear the worst.
"Every aspect of life in Tadmur Prison is a dehumanizing experience," said
Amnesty International. "The level of brutality endured by prisoners in this prison is
shocking. It is hard to believe that such torture and ill-treatment can still take place
The report stresses that the safeguards against torture and ill-treatment contained in the
Syrian Constitution and Penal Code are only theoretical. Despite "repeated and
consistent allegations of torture, Amnesty International is not aware of any cases where
Syrian laws against torture have actually been implemented," the organization said.
Torture is so routine that detainees are commonly tortured as soon as they arrive in
Tadmur, in what is known as the "haflat al-istiqbal" or "reception
party." A former detainee held between 1996 and 1999 gave this account of a
"reception" at Tadmur: "I was (...) forced into the tyre and ordered to
place my hands between my legs; my feet were then stretched and painfully tied with a
strong rope to an iron bar to prevent me from moving them in any direction. After that
they took the blindfold off my eyes and the lashing started. Two guards were whipping me
at the same time (...) Amidst our cries of pain we begin to count the lashes: one, two...
Ten, twenty, thirty... then one loses count and concentration. Indeed many people
The report points out that the jailers, especially during the 1980s, seemed to have been
given a licence to do anything to certain categories of prisoners, including deliberately
killing them. A prisoners' report smuggled out of Syria in 1999 contained this typical
account: "... Another means of torture is to force two prisoners to hold an inmate by
the hands and feet, rock him high in the air, then fling him away to fall on the ground.
When one prisoner refused to do so he was beaten continuously on his head until he lost
his mind completely. The poor man turned into a clown, and died one month later.
Liquidation by torture was also common in Tadmur. A single blow to the prisoner's head
with an iron bar, or a concrete block thrown by a guard stationed on the roof onto the
head of prisoners standing in the 'breather' (daily exercise) courtyard, and it is all
All aspects of normal prison routine, the exercise period and even personal hygiene, in
Tadmur Prison are frequently used to inflict torture or ill-treatment. For example when
prisoners are shaved, approximately every three to four weeks, they are beaten while
waiting their turn and their faces, particularly their lips, ears and noses, are often
slashed with razor blades.
The report notes that the treatment of prisoners in Tadmur Prison seemed to change
depending on shifts of emphasis in political situations and the state's policies towards
various categories of its political opponents. The 1980s witnessed the most brutal and
horrific scenes of torture and the deaths of perhaps hundreds of prisoners, mostly as a
result of torture. In the 1990s the treatment of prisoners saw some improvement, although
many inmates have suffered from a high incidence of serious illnesses, such as
tuberculosis and cholera.
Amnesty International notes that fewer arrests seemed to have taken place during the last
few years, leading to fewer reports of torture and ill-treatment. However, the
organization remains concerned that the mechanisms which facilitate human rights
violations, as provided under the 1963 Emergency Legislation, including the excessive
powers given to the security forces, are still intact, as witnessed by the recent
arbitrary arrests of leading opposition figures, human rights activists and members of the
emerging civil society groups.
Amnesty International's recommendations to the Syrian authorities include calls for
release of all prisoners of conscience; immediate halt of the current wave of arrests of
political opponents and activists; bringing the administration of all prisons under proper
judicial control; ratification of the Convention against Torture; independent
investigations in all cases of torture and ill-treatment; informing the families of those
who died in custody or were executed where their relatives were buried and ensuring that
victims of torture and prolonged detention without trial be rehabilitated and compensated.
"No political or economic reform in Syria will be possible unless priority is given
to human rights protection and promotion," Amnesty International concluded.
For the full report, please see:
For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on
+44 20 7413 5566
Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW web : http://www.amnesty.org