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Free Peaceful Activists, Journalists, Aid Workers in Amnesty
International Federation of Human Rights
25 October 2012
(…) President Bashar al-Assad should release all peaceful activists, media professionals, and humanitarian assistance providers as part of an amnesty announced on October 23, 2012, Human Rights Watch, Alkarama, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Index on Censorship, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Reporters Without Borders, and Samir Kassir Foundation – Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom said today. These persons have been detained purely for exercising their basic rights such as freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, or for assisting others and therefore should not have been detained or prosecuted in the first place, the groups said. (…)

Some of the worst human rights abuses in Syria take place outside of public view, behind the cell walls of detention facilities, where thousands of Syrians, including many women and children, are arbitrarily detained and in many documented cases, brutally tortured. Peaceful activists, human rights defenders, aid workers, lawyers, doctors, writers, and journalists continue to be held, often arbitrarily, in incommunicado detention, and subject to torture and ill-treatment. (…)
While it is impossible to verify the number of people detained since the beginning of anti-government protests in March 2011, the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a Syrian monitoring group, has said it is at least 32,160. In some instances activists have reported that security forces detained their family members to pressure the activists to turn themselves in. (…)

Humanitarian assistance providers and doctors have also been arrested and otherwise harassed by the Syrian government while attempting to provide assistance in violation of its obligations under international humanitarian law. Under humanitarian law, the government is required to allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of impartially distributed humanitarian aid to the population in need and to ensure the freedom of movement of humanitarian relief personnel essential to the exercise of their functions. (…)

Syria remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to work. According to Reporters Without Borders, since the beginning of anti-government protests in March 2011 at least 150 journalists and citizen journalists have been imprisoned. 14 journalists and 41 citizen-journalists have been killed. Other people who have expressed controversial views or promoted freedom of expression have also been targeted by the government. 

Syrian security forces have conducted a widespread and systematic campaign of torture of detainees across Syria since the beginning of the anti-government protests. Former detainees and defectors have reported horrific torture including sexual abuse such as rape, forced nudity, and electric shock to the genitalia; beatings with batons and cables, particularly targeting sensitive body areas; and burning and electric shocks. 

The government should immediately stop arbitrarily arresting, detaining, and torturing those in custody, the groups said. The government should provide immediate and unhindered access for recognized international detention monitors, including the office of the Joint Special Representative of the UN and the League of Arab States, Lakhdar Brahimi and the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria, to all detention facilities, official and unofficial, without prior notification. 

The Joint Special Representative’s Office and the COI should provide professional human rights monitors who are trained to organize random and regular visits to all places of detention, including suspected secret detention centers. These experts should have the capabilities and resources to identify people who are arbitrarily detained, protect interviewees from retaliation, ensure the confidentiality and safekeeping of interviews, and interview women who have been sexually abused and children who have been tortured.

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