Syria: Torture fear for dozens arrested in Damascus suburb

Dozens of men are being held incommunicado at unknown locations and are at risk of torture after the Syrian security forces conducted mass arrests in a Damascus suburb over the weekend, Amnesty International said today. Tanks and armed men moved into Qatana, south-west of the capital, on Saturday, opening fire on unarmed residents and carrying out raids randomly arresting dozens of men between the ages of 18 and 40. Amnesty International is particularly concerned for their given reports of rampant torture across Syria. Journalist and political activist ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah, aged 61, is among those being held incommunicado at an unknown location after his arrest on Sunday. “Syrian authorities must reveal the whereabouts of ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah and the other Qatana detainees and ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment while held,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director.‘Ali al-‘Abdullah’s son Mohammad, who lives in exile in the USA, told Amnesty International that some 10 armed men in military uniforms arrived at his family’s flat in Qatana on the morning of Sunday, 17 July. They ransacked the flat and threatened to open fire if the family did not hand over ‘Ali’s other son, ‘Omar. As ‘Omar was not home, they arrested ‘Ali instead, telling the family that “he won’t come back unless ‘Omar shows up.”Amnesty International believes that ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah is likely to be a prisoner of conscience detained solely because he is ‘Omar’s father. There are concerns for his well-being as he underwent heart surgery three weeks ago and it is not known if he is receiving the required constant medical attention and treatment. ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah has been previously imprisoned five times for his peaceful political activism, and was most recently released on 4 June as part of a “general amnesty” declared by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. His sons have also been imprisoned on politically motivated charges in the past. Some of the dozens of other men from Qatana currently held incommunicado at unknown locations are believed to have taken part in or supported pro-reform protests in the town last week. Pro-reform protests had been taking place daily in Qatana from 9 to 15 July, following four months of unrest across Syria. The protesters clashed with al-Assad supporters on a number of occasions when both sides threw stones at each other. According to Qatana residents the situation reportedly escalated when the Syrian army and security forces entered the town with tanks early on 16 July and opened fire on residential areas, injuring a number of people including some of those who were leaving the Mosque of Mariam Ben ‘Omran after Saturday morning prayers. A curfew was imposed at around 11am, internet, electricity and water were cut off in at least some parts of the town and the army and security forces began carrying out door-to-door raids and arresting men. Qatana residents also reported that a seven-month-old child, Mohammed Ahmed Sabboura, was shot dead and his mother injured while attempting to flee Qatana. Amnesty International has the names of 32 people who are reported to have been killed nationwide by Syrian security forces and army since the weekend and more than 1,380 reported to have been killed since the unrest began in mid-March. “In recent months, from Dara’a to Homs to Qatana and beyond, violence, shelling of residential areas and mass arrests have become all too common in the Syrian authorities’ attempts to quell pro-reform protests,” said Philip Luther.“Meanwhile, Syrian citizens’ demands for reform have only gathered steam, driving home the notion that the status quo is not working and the bloody military crackdown must come to an end.”