Fears for safety of human rights lawyer abducted in Syria
A prominent Syrian human rights lawyer who went missing this weekend after an apparent abduction is at grave risk of abuse, Amnesty International has said. Abdullah al-Khalil, who became head of the local council for al-Raqqa Governorate after armed opposition groups took control in March 2013, was reportedly taken away by unidentified armed individuals as he left his office in the north-eastern city of al-Raqqa late on Saturday night. Sources close to Abdullah al-Khalil say he and another man were taken away in two cars. Their whereabouts since is unknown. Local armed opposition groups have reportedly denied responsibility for the abduction."Whether the Syrian authorities or local armed groups are behind the incident, the two men are at grave risk of abuse,” said Ann Harrison, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “Whoever has information on their fate and whereabouts must inform the men's families."Abdullah al-Khalil has been arrested by government forces five times during the last two years on account of his work as a lawyer defending political prisoners and promoting human rights. Amnesty International had campaigned for his release in March 2012. [He was reportedly tortured and otherwise ill-treated during at least one of the periods of detention. He also received death threats and his family’s farm buildings were destroyed by order of the local authorities. He had fled to Turkey with his family in late 2012 after receiving further threats, before returning to al-Raqqa without them. Tensions between various local armed opposition groups in al-Raqqa, some of which are also reported to have carried out serious abuses which may amount to war crimes, have been reported in recent weeks, In a video posted online on 14 May, three unidentified, blindfolded and handcuffed men are seen being shot dead by armed men in al-Raqqa. An armed man in the video said the killings were being carried out by an armed opposition group called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shaam, which he said was “in retaliation” for mass killings in Banias for which he blamed government forces.