Lama Fakih of Human Rights Watch and Bassam al-Ahmad of the Violations Documentation Center talk to Syria Deeply about those detained since the start of the Syrian uprising:
Syria Deeply: How many people are currently being held in detention?
Fakih: It’s very difficult for us to estimate how many people are held, particularly because the government doesn’t allow human rights monitors inside its detention centers. However, we have documented evidence that the government has established a widespread process of detention facilities across the country.
al-Ahmad: No one is exactly sure how many people are currently in prisons, but at VDC we think that more than 200,000 people – civilians, activists, human rights defenders – from the beginning of the revolution to the present day have been arrested by regime forces.
By mid-2012, the Syrian authorities had established the anti-terrorism court. From then until now, they’ve transferred more than 70,000 people just to this court alone.
Syria Deeply: What are the conditions like in detention?
Fakih: We’ve documented torture and ill treatment on a widespread scale that amount to crimes against humanity in government detention facilities. In non-state armed groups we’ve also documented widespread torture, but not to the same degree as in government facilities.
Ill treatment ranges from inadequate access to food and water, to cells that are so overcrowded that detainees lack oxygen, a lack of blankets in the winter, and extremely unsanitary conditions that result in illness.
Detainees don’t have access to family members or attorneys, often don’t know the reason behind their confinement, and in many cases aren’t brought before judges.
This is in addition to widespread torture methods that we’ve documented in detention facilities across the country, including sexual violence, electrocution, Falaqa [beating with sticks, batons or whips on the soles of the feet], Shabeh [hanging the detainee from the ceiling by the hands so that his toes barely touch the ground or he is completely suspended in the air with his entire weight on his wrists, causing extreme pain], Basat al-reeh [tying the victim down to a flat board so that they can beat them] and not allowing detainees to sleep.
al-Ahmad: When the regime leaves, you’ll see the remains of unbelievable treatment in the detention centers. The degree of torture, killing, disease and ill-treatment is unbelievable.
Most prisoners are victims of torture. The Commission of Inquiry on Syria said that the killing and torture of people is systematic by regime forces, because the number is so large. The Caesar report put the number at 11,000 people killed by torture and poor conditions in the detention facilities.