Syria must reveal fate of missing child feared to be at risk of torture

The Syrian authorities must immediately reveal the whereabouts of a 16-year-old boy who has been missing since November, Amnesty International has urged.Ahmed Ismael al-‘Akkad’s family have not been told anything about his fate or whereabouts since his arrest on 20 November 2012. His family received a smuggled note from the teenager 40 days later, in which he said his health was deteriorating due to cramped and humid prison conditions and a lack of medication for his asthma.”The Syrian authorities must reveal Ahmed Ismael al-Akkad’s whereabouts and fate.  He must be granted immediate access to his family and lawyer, and receive any medication he needs to control his asthma,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director.“They must also ensure he is protected from the systematic torture or other ill-treatment we know occurs in Syrian prisons.  More than 1,000 detainees are reported to have died in custody since March 2011, most apparently from the effects of torture or other ill-treatment. This tidal wave of death must be stopped.” The 16-year-old was arrested when authorities raided the predominantly Sunni Muslim al-Midan neighbourhood of the Syrian capital, Damascus. His family say they have not received any information regarding his arrest and detention and are too afraid to ask the authorities for information about his whereabouts. All they have is Ahmed’s handwritten note, which was smuggled out by detainees released from the Palestine Branch – a detention centre in Damascus – where Amnesty International has documented torture over many years and where Ahmed said he was being held.”The authorities must clarify Ahmed Ismael al-Akkad’s legal status,” said Ann Harrison.”If he is held solely for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and assembly, he should be released immediately and unconditionally.”The reasons for Ahmed Ismael al-‘Akkad’s arrest are unclear. Syrian government forces have arrested thousands of people, including children, since widespread unrest broke out in March 2011.Many, if not most, detainees have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in prisons and detention centres run by Syria’s feared security agencies. “The Syrian authorities must ensure that Ahmed Ismael al-Akkad is treated in accordance with human rights standards outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and within the rules of juvenile justice,” said Ann Harrison.The Convention stipulates that the detention of children should be a last resort and that children in detention should be held separately from adults in facilities that meet the particular needs of children in custody.According to a Syrian human rights organization, heavy clashes took place between Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups in the neighbourhoods of al-Tadamon and al-Hajar al-Aswad, which are close to al-Midan, shortly before the raid which led to the teenager’s arrest.