Fears grow for Kurdish man held in Syrian custody
Amnesty International is urging the Syrian authorities to release or charge a Kurdish man who has been detained for almost two years.Reports from exiled Kurdish activists have raised fears that ‘Abdelbaqi Khalaf has been tortured at the hands of State Security.The political activist is reportedly being taken from Damascus Central prison to a State Security office every few weeks to coerce him into “confessing” to being the head of the political wing of a certain Syrian Kurdish organization, which he denies. “We are seriously concerned about reports that ‘Abdelbaqi Khalaf has been repeatedly tortured under questioning by State Security agents in an attempt to force him to confess to something which he says is not true,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “These allegations must be independently and impartially investigated without delay and those identified as responsible brought to justice.”Previously a member of the Syrian Kurdish political party known as the Popular Union (Ittihad al-Sha’b), in the 1990s ‘Abdelbaqi Khalaf had helped establish a clandestine library of Kurdish-language books, which are banned in Syria – a country where Kurds face discrimination and where Kurdish civil society activists risk arbitrary arrest, torture and unlawful imprisonment.‘Abdelbaqi Khalaf has been refused access to a lawyer and his family was on one occasion prevented from visiting him, allegedly because he had been tortured and was not in a fit state to be seen. “‘Abdelbaqi Khalaf must be allowed immediate access to a lawyer of his own choosing and any medical attention he may require,” said Philip Luther. Masked men abducted ‘Abdelbaqi Khalaf as he was closing his clothing store in Qamishily in September 2008 after he told friends that he believed security agents were monitoring his movements. Until early 2010, the activist was held incommunicado at an unknown location, where he was reportedly hanged by his wrists and shackled to a wall for the first eight days of detention. Torture and other ill-treatment are widely carried out in detention and interrogation centres in Syria where four deaths as a possible result of torture have been reported in the last two months.Dozens of Kurds have been detained over the killings of the security agents, including brothers Munther, Nedal and Riad Ahmed, who were arrested after they discussed with other Kurdish activists setting up an organization to promote Kurdish culture through books on Kurdish issues. Atleast two of the brothers also ran an unofficial library ,unconnected to that which had been supported by ‘Abdelbaqi Khalaf in the 1990s, supported by ‘Abdelbaqi Khalaf and lent books on Kurdish issues, as well as printing works by Kurdish writers who had been refused publication elsewhere.Kurdish language and culture suffer severe restrictions in Syria, where publishing and printing materials in Kurdish as well as teaching the language are forbidden and punishable by imprisonment. Many Kurds are denied Syrian nationality, depriving them of education, employment, health care and other rights enjoyed by Syrian nationals. Those connected with Kurdish political parties or groups that raise concerns about the discrimination against Kurds, risk arbitrary arrest, torture and imprisonment after unfair trials.