BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch Thursday launched a campaign entitled “Lost in Syria’s Black Hole for Doing Their Jobs” to pressure the country’s authorities over arbitrary detention.
The rights watchdog, based in New York, highlights the stories of 21 of the estimated thousands of people who the group said are often accused of supporting “terrorism.”
“While the world has become used to gruesome video footage aired on their TV screens showing the brutality of Syria’s conflict, some of Syria’s worst human rights abuses take place outside of public view,” the group said.
HRW urged the authorities to provide “immediate and unhindered access” for international monitors to detention sites, and release victims of arbitrary detention.
It said thousands of people have been caught up in the regime’s loosely defined 2012 anti-terrorism law, which it said was “broad enough to encompass almost any opposition activity.”
One of the detainees profiled is Abdel-Akram al-Saqqa, a mosque imam in Damascus’ Daraya suburb.
In talking about his July 15, 2011, detention, his daughter Asma al-Saqqa said that “those who took my father did not have an arrest warrant and did not explain why they were arresting him.”
Prior to the uprising, Saqqa served two periods of detention, on one occasion spending nine months in Seidnaya prison for peacefully protesting corruption, according to HRW.
The rights group also profiled the cases of sisters Ghada and Sawsan al-Abbar, who were detained on Dec. 21, 2012, in Daraya.
Ghada, 31, is a lawyer who was active in documenting human rights abuses, while Sawsan, 30, worked at Daraya National Hospital.
The report says that after the sisters learned the authorities were searching for them for their involvement in peaceful political activities, a friend’s mother was used to lure them out of hiding.
“Their friend’s mother later told the Abbar family that security forces had threatened to torture her own daughter, who had been detained earlier that month, unless she helped them capture the other women,” the profile said.
Their family has been allowed brief visits to the sisters, who have been held at Adra Central Prison in Damascus since April. They appeared before a counterterrorism court in June but have not been sentenced.
HRW said Mohammad Meqdad, a lawyer active in humanitarian activities, was arrested on Sept. 20, 2012, in Damascus. Relatives said the authorities detained him because he was active in distributing medicine to protesters wounded in demonstrations.
Meqdad is a Syrian Red Crescent volunteer who took part in relief operations during the 2006 war in Lebanon, HRW said. His family has yet to receive official confirmation of his detention, and his mother is “desperate for any news of her son.”