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Syria must release detained human rights lawyer: AI

Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Thursday urged Syria to release a prominent human rights lawyer [press release] and his friend believed to be detained by security forces. AI contends that both men should be released immediately unless they are charged with an internationally recognized offense. A Deputy Director for Amnesty International states that "the families of these men have a right to know what has happened to them. If they are held, they should be released immediately and unconditionally unless they are charged with an internationally recognisable offence." Khalil Ma'touq and his friend were last seen on Tuesday morning, leaving their home in Damascus for work. The two men both had to pass through numerous government checkpoints on their way to work, but neither of them made it into work that day. Now, both the men's cell phones are not working. Ma'touq is part of Syria's Christian minority and has been working as a human rights lawyer for several years, defending individuals before the State's Security Court.

Last month the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution [JURIST report] extending the mission of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) in Syria. The panel of independent experts is charged with investigating the human rights situation in the country amidst the prolonged and violent conflict between government and opposition forces. The COI last week testified before the Human Rights Council that human rights violations in Syria were increasing in severity and number [JURIST report]. Chair of the COI Paulo Pinheiro stated that both sides of the Syrian conflict are committing war crimes and that government forces are committing crimes against humanity. He said that the government was using regular bombing of residential neighborhoods via both artillery shelling and airstrikes and mechanized infantry to clear out anti-government groups.

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