Human Rights groups claims torture evidence found in Syrian prisons

HRW said its researchers found physical evidence that Syrians were tortured

Human rights activists visiting abandoned government prisons in the first Syrian city to come under rebel control have found torture devices and other evidence that detainees were abused there, Human Rights Watch said in a report Friday.

Raqqa, in eastern Syria, was overrun in late February by rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad. The rebels facilitated the New York-based group's access to facilities that had belonged to a government security agency and military intelligence in late April.

The HRW said its researchers found physical evidence that Syrians were tortured, including with a device which former detainees said was used to stretch or bend victims' arms and legs. The group also found documents indicating Raqqa residents were detained for legal actions like demonstrating or helping the injured.

Rights groups and opposition activists have long claimed that civilians have been detained arbitrarily, tortured, and sometimes have disappeared since the uprising against Assad's regime began. HRW's findings appear to be one of the largest finds of physical evidence bolstering those claims to date.

"The documents, prison cells, interrogation rooms, and torture devices we saw in the government's security facilities are consistent with the torture former detainees have described to us," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director for HRW.

HRW has been documenting abuses on both sides of Syria's civil war during the 26 months of conflict.

The group says abuses by the Assad regime remain far more deadly, systematic and widespread, including attacks on civilians with indiscriminate battlefield weapons such as widely banned cluster bombs. But the rights group also says rebel abuses have increased in frequency and scale in recent months.

In Raqqa, the group's researchers inspected the State Security and Military Intelligence branches and three other detention centers formerly managed by Criminal Security, Political Security, and Air Force Intelligence. Government forces abandoned all these institutions, which are now controlled by the rebels, the group said.

Four former detainees said that officers and guards tortured them, HRW said.

One of them, identified in the report as Ahmed, a 24-year-old student from Raqqa, told HRW that he and his brother had been detained April 7, 2012 in the city's Military Intelligence branch on charges of participating in peaceful demonstrations. The group said it gave only first names of former detainees in the report for fear their testimonies could subject them or their families to further government harassment.

Ahmed said he and his brother had been beaten and tortured with electricity shocks for several hours a day throughout five days of detention. He told HRW that intelligence officers and prison guards wanted him to give up the names of other protesters.

"The torture started in turns between my brother and me," Ahmed said. "They started torturing him with electricity for three, four hours, and then they threw him in a solitary cell. They wanted me to tell them who used to go out to demonstrate with me . and they would make me hear my brother's screams."

The interrogators also threatened to detain his mother. Ahmed told HRW that the possibility of his mother being harmed made him confess to anything.

"Whatever it is you want, I am with you," he said he had told the interrogators. "I will fingerprint a white piece of paper, and you write what you want."

Ahmed was ultimately tried in a military court in the northern city of Aleppo. He was released from a civilian prison in Raqqa June 8, 2012, following a court decision to sentence him to time served, the report said.

He joined the rebels after his release and has been with a Raqqa-based opposition group known as the Islamic Front for Unity and Liberation, HRW said.

In one method of torture the HRW report details, the victim is tied to a flat board, sometimes in the shape of a cross. In some cases guards stretched or pulled their limbs or folded the board in half so that their face touched their legs, causing pain.

The group also interviewed five people formerly held by Military Intelligence in Raqqa. They said security services questioned them about lawful activities, such as participating in anti-Assad demonstrations, providing relief assistance to displaced families, defending detainees, and providing emergency assistance to injured demonstrators.

Syria's conflict started as a peaceful uprising in March 2011. It became an armed conflict when opposition supporters took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown on dissent.

At least 70,000 people have been killed and millions forced out of their homes.

Over the past year Syria gradually descended into lawlessness, with a spike of kidnappings in largely rebel-controlled northern Syria as well as the government-held capital. Residents blame criminal groups that have ties to both the regime and the opposition for the abductions of wealthy residents traveling to Syria from neighboring Turkey and Lebanon.

On Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights expressed "grave concern" for the two bishops, who were abducted last month and have not been heard of since.

Gunmen pulled Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church from their car and killed their driver on April 22 while they were traveling outside the northern city of Aleppo. It was not clear who abducted the priests. No group has publically claimed it is holding the two clerics.

According to the Britain-based activist group the, the two were picked up at a checkpoint in Kfar Dael by Arabic-speaking foreign fighters believed to be from Chechnya

In a statement, the Observatory called on both sides in the civil war to secure their release.

Also today, a report in the New York Times, quoting an unnamed US official claimed Russia has sent sophisticated anti-ship missiles to Syria.

Russia did not confirm details of the shipments but said they did not break any international rules.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back