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Assad's regime 'hanged up to 13,000 people in mass executions at military prison

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#1 [Permalink] Posted on 7th February 2017 09:07
Up to 13,000 secretly hanged in Syrian jail, says Amnesty

Thousands of other opponents of Assad died from torture and starvation at Saydnaya prison, witness reports suggest

As many as 13,000 opponents of Bashar al-Assad were secretly hanged in one of Syria’s most infamous prisons in the first five years of the country’s civil war as part of an extermination policy ordered by the highest levels of the Syrian government, according to Amnesty International.

Many thousands more people held in Saydnaya prison died through torture and starvation, Amnesty said, and the bodies were dumped in two mass graves on the outskirts of Damascus between midnight and dawn most Tuesday mornings for at least five years.

The report, Human Slaughterhouse, details allegations of state-sanctioned abuse that are unprecedented in Syria’s civil war, a conflict that has consistently broken new ground in depravity, leaving at least 400,000 people dead and nearly half the country’s population displaced.

It suggests thousands more people could have been hanged in Saydnaya since the end of 2015, after which former guards and detainees who spoke to Amnesty no longer had access to verifiable information from inside the prison.

Among the 84 people interviewed were four former guards at two key buildings, a “red building” in which civilian detainees were held and a “white building” that held former military members and where hangings were carried out in the basement. More than 12 months of research focused on 31 men who were held in both buildings. A military judge was also interviewed.

The witnesses claimed that once or twice a week 20 to 50 people at a time were hanged after sham trials before a military court. Their bodies were taken to the nearby Tishreen military hospital where a cause of death was typically registered as a respiratory disorder or heart failure. They were buried on military land in Nahja, south of Damascus, and Qatana, a small town to the west.

The report’s author, Nicolette Waldman, said the estimate of the number of people hanged ranged from a minimum of 5,000 to a maximum of 13,000.

“There is no reason at all to expect that the hangings have stopped. We believe it is very likely that the executions are going on to this day and that many thousands more people have been killed,” she said.

“They came for them on a Monday. Before they were hanged, victims were condemned to death in a two- to three-minute hearing. The death sentence was signed by the minister of defence, who was deputised to sign by President Assad. It is inconceivable that all of the top officials did not know about it. This was a policy of extermination.”

Waldman said the hanging victims were separate to claims of the systematic killing of more than 11,000 detainees in Syria from March 2011 until August 2013, which were documented by a photographer codenamed Caesar who worked for the Syrian military police.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed last May that at least 60,000 people had died as a result of torture or dire conditions in Syrian prisons from the earliest months of the anti-Assad insurrection.

Since then, Syria has been gradually torn apart. The initial uprising was met with a brutal crackdown and mass detentions, and by late 2011 it had started to transform into an armed insurgency that aimed to topple the four-decade Assad dynasty and its supporting state structure.

By mid-2012 the uprising had been joined by jihadists from outside Syria, who blended with hundreds of hardcore Islamists freed from Syrian prisons who had begun to splinter the opposition. All the while, mass arrests and detentions accelerated, as did an exodus of civilians from most parts of the country.

The war soon sparked the biggest refugee crisis anywhere since the end of the second world war. Mass immigration has since been a focal point of political discourse in Europe and the US, feeding the rise of populism and nationalistic leaders such as Donald Trump, whose travel ban prevented Syrians, among others, from entering the US, until the order was overturned by a federal judge on Friday.

Amnesty said non-state armed groups had also carried out serious human rights abuses against detainees. It singled out the al-Qaida-inspired Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State as perpetrators of war crimes. But it said the “vast majority of detention-related violations since 2011 have been carried out by Syrian authorities”.

Witnesses to the killings in Saydnaya described a methodical routine in which those about to be hung were collected from their cell block in the red building in the afternoon and told they were to be transferred to another prison. They were instead taken to the basement of the white building, several hundred metres away, and repeatedly beaten. They were taken before a military judge and condemned, before being hanged between midnight and 3am.

“Some of them initially did not know what the sounds were,” said Waldman. “It is such a dehumanising and horrible experience in prison already.”

Amnesty said its witnesses had detailed each step of the process, with some giving graphic accounts of having heard the hangings being carried out in the room beneath them. The organisation said it had sought a response to its allegations from Syrian officials in mid-January but received no reply. Amnesty researchers are barred from entering Syria.

“What we have uncovered is beyond anything else we have seen,” said Waldman. “This demands a new kind of response. These practices have to stop. It is one more step of diabolical intent by the Syrian authorities.”
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#2 [Permalink] Posted on 7th February 2017 09:23

7 FEBRUARY 2017 • 7:06AM
The Syrian regime has executed up to 13,000 people in secret mass hangings carried out in the basement of a military prison near Damascus, according to Amnesty International.

A new report by the human rights group alleges that Bashar al-Assad’s security forces carried out “a calculated campaign of mass hangings and extermination” at Saydnaya, a military prison outside the capital.

“Saydnaya Military Prison is where the Syria state quietly slaughters its own people,” the report reads. “The victims are overwhelmingly ordinary civilians who are thought to oppose the government.”

Prisoners are kept in the “red building” of the hulking three-winged prison until they are taken before a military court in Damascus. There they are sentenced to death in show trials “which last between one and three minutes,” according to the report.

Detainees are then brought back to the prison and blindfolded and then transferred to the prison’s “white building”.

In a dark basement room, nooses are put around their necks and they are hanged in groups of between 20 and 50 people, Amnesty said.

“Throughout the process, the victims remain blindfolded,” the report states.

“They are only told that they have been sentenced to death minutes before the executions are carried out; they are never told when their executions will be carried out; and they do not know how they will die until the nooses are placed around their necks.”

The bodies are then disposed of in mass graves. Medical reports usually give the cause of death as heart or lung failure, according to Amnesty.

Researchers interviewed former prisoners and prison guards at Saydnaya and concluded that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were killed there between September 2011 and December 2015.

The killings are believed to be continuing even today.

The killing programme was authorised at the highest levels of Bashar al-Assad's regime, according to Amnesty
Amnesty alleges that the scale of the killing means the hanging programme must have been “authorised by officials at the highest levels of government”.

Individual death sentences are supposed to be approved by either the minister of defence of the chief of staff of the army, both of whom are authorised to act on behalf of Mr Assad.

The report may bolster critics of Donald Trump who have been alarmed at his apparent willingness to work with Russia and the Assad regime in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

“I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing [Isil],” Mr Trump said during the second presidential debate against Hillary Clinton.

20 to 50 people are hung at one time, according to the report CREDIT: ALLAN SWART / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

The Amnesty report also describes how prisoners at Saydnaya are subjected to “maximal physical and psychological suffering” before their executions, including rape and severe beatings.

One student named Omar told researchers that prison guards would take one of the smaller male prisoners and make him face a wall and then instruct a larger male prisoner to rape him.

“Sometimes psychological pain is worse than physical pain, and the people who were forced to do this were never the same again.”
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