Prisoners in Syria face ordeal by torture chamber

Amnesty compiles new evidence of treatment inflicted by brutal regime

President Bashar al-Assad's security forces are deploying an array of torture techniques against Syrians rounded up during a year of protests and bloodshed, a human-rights group has said on the eve of the uprising's first anniversary.

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Many of the thousands who have disappeared into the Assad regime's torture chambers in the last 12 months have faced horrifying ordeals, including mock crucifixion, rape, spending days hung from the ceiling and being locked in a tiny cell with a corpse, Amnesty International alleges in a new report released today.

Despite a mounting body of evidence that the Assad regime is committing crimes against humanity as the country teeters on the brink of civil war, the international community appears stuck in a diplomatic quagmire. The former UN chief Kofi Annan, a special envoy to deal with Syria, left Damascus empty handed on Sunday after talks with Mr Assad. He said yesterday he was waiting for an official response from the regime on proposals to end the violence.

As the world waits, the horrors continue. Up to 8,000 people are believed to have been killed since 15 March 2011, when Syrians took to the streets in the first co-ordinated protests across the country to demand political reform and freedom for the tens of thousands of political prisoners. Many of them have since disappeared into the very system they were protesting against, subjected to the medieval torture methods documented in Amnesty's report.

"The testimonies we have heard give disturbing insights into a system of detention and interrogation, which, a year after protests began, appears intended primarily to degrade, humiliate and terrify its victims into silence," Ann Harrison, Amnesty's Middle East deputy director, said. The Amnesty report, based on interviews with Syrians who fled to Jordan, provides extreme details of 31 techniques they say are used by the regime. They range from familiar techniques such as beatings and electric shocks to elaborate tortures such as suspending a person from a wall with their arms out in a crucifixion position. In another, referred to as the "flying carpet", the victim is strapped on a folding wooden board, which is then forced closed.

Some detainees also gave shocking accounts of the rape of prisoners, either by a member of the security forces or with broken bottles or metal skewers. A man who gave his name as Tareq described the horrifying scene he witnessed: "The officer said 'bring Khalid'... I was at the back so couldn't see Khalid well, but they pulled down his trousers. He had an injury on his upper left leg. Then the official raped him up against the wall. Khalid just cried during it, beating his head on the wall."

Many of the torture techniques described in the Amnesty report tally with an account given to The Independent by an activist in Damascus last month, who spent five months being subjected to a horrific array of torture after taking part in protests against the regime. He spokes of weeks locked in tiny spaces in a stress position and of being hung from the ceiling by a hook.

Syria's government has denied allegations of torture and a spokesman for the regime said yesterday: "There are definitely clear and strict instructions from highest hierarchy to ban any torture methods whatsoever. The army is on the defensive... anyone who breaches this code is to be held accountable."

President Assad continues to push his much-derided programme of reform, announcing yesterday that parliamentary elections will be held on 7 May.

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