[JURIST] UN Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] Zeid Raad Al Hussein [official profile] urged Syrian authorities on Thursday to release jailed activists [press release] that have been held without due process, in some cases for years, after reports of widespread torture and human rights abuses of detainees. Syrian authorities reportedly targeted activists, lawyers and human rights defenders before the country’s civil war began, and those groups are particularly vulnerable today. Estimates of the number of people held by authorities since the outbreak of protests in 2011 range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, and families are often unable to communicate with those held. Militias affiliated with the government are abducting activists on their own by setting up checkpoints throughout the country. Reports indicate that some of these militias are running detainee facilities where torture and abuse is widespread. UN human rights reports also reveal that torture is more common in the first days or weeks of detention to obtain information and intimidate detainees. Detainees are often kept in poor conditions without adequate food or medical care.
The Syrian government has been accused of substantial human rights abuses during the course of the Syrian civil war [JURIST backgrounder]. A coalition of 71 human rights groups released a statement [JURIST report] on Monday urging the Syrian government to release three prominent human rights defenders on the third anniversary of their imprisonment. The statement identified the three men, Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir, as Syrian journalists who were arrested in a raid of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, and who have been detained and tortured on charges of “publicizing terrorist acts” under Syria’s Anti-Terrorism Law of 2012. Despite being formally charged one year ago, their trial has been repeatedly postponed, and the government’s applicable 2014 amnesty grant has not been honored. In April the UN human rights chief reported [JURIST report] that human rights abuses in the Syrian conflict were overwhelmingly committed by the government and not by rebel forces.