Journalists and activists in Syria who pass on information about the country's unrest to the media face torture and other ill-treatment, Amnesty International said today, as one journalist started his second week in incommunicado detention.
'Adel Walid Kharsa was arrested by security forces in his hometown of Hama on 17 August, seemingly in connection with his news reports on the protests.
Amnesty International has information indicating that other detainees have been tortured to find out whether they have given news about events in Syria to regional and international media.
"‘Adel Walid Kharsa appears to have been arrested for his work reporting on the popular protests and the government’s brutal security crackdown in Hama,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“If this is the case then he is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally.
“The authorities must also ensure that ‘Adel is protected from torture and other ill-treatment, allowed immediate contact with his family and a lawyer of his choice, and given any medical attention he needs.”
‘Adel, 25, left Syria last year to look for work in the United Arab Emirates. He was so overwhelmed by what was happening in his country that he returned in June and began reporting on the violence and killings he witnessed in Hama.
Despite taking precautions by making his news reports anonymously by phone, ‘Adel’s identity became known to Syrian security officials.
He received calls on his cell phone from security officers urging him to “repent” and to give himself in to the authorities. He refused and went into hiding.
At 5am on 17 August, Kharsa was arrested by security forces at the house where he was hiding. He has since been held incommunicado.
Syrian security forces have been carrying out widespread arrests in response to mass protests calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, which began in March.
The arrests have targeted people perceived to have organized or openly supported those protests, whether in public gatherings, in the media or on the internet.
One such case is 28-year-old “Wael” (not his real name), who was detained in May and held for three weeks accused of filming demonstrations with his cell phone in his hometown of Tell Kalakh, south of the western city of Homs. He told Amnesty International:
“I was taken to an interrogator... He accused me of being a correspondent for Al Jazeera, the BBC and [Gulf-based] Wesal channels. It was true that I filmed events with my cell phone but I did not send them to any channel.”
“Wael” said he was forced into a stress position known as the shabah (ghost) by being tied by the wrists to a bar high enough off the ground that he was forced to stand on tiptoes for six hours. He said he was also splashed with water and electrocuted.
“Having decided to return to Syria to cover the uprising, ‘Adel Walid Kharsa has already lost his freedom. He, like many detained during the regime’s crackdown, is now at risk of acts of brutality while in the hands of the authorities,” said Philip Luther.