Details emerging from former detainees in Syria corroborate the allegations of mass deaths in custody made by a military defector, Human Rights Watch said today.
Detainees report the following conditions in Al-Assad's jails:
Lack of food
Lack of ventilation
Poor medical services
Extremely poor sanitary conditions which lead to skin diseases and diarrhea
Four former detainees released from the Sednaya military prison in 2014 described deaths in custody and harsh prison conditions that closely match the allegations of the defector, who photographed thousands of dead bodies in military hospitals in Damascus.
In January, a team of senior international lawyers and forensic experts published a report concluding that Syrian authorities had systematically tortured and killed detainees. According to the report, a military defector, code-named Caesar, had taken 55,000 photographs of an estimated 11,000 bodies in military hospitals and other locations in Damascus. The bodies showed signs of starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation and other forms of torture and killing.
"The accounts of the four recently released detainees we interviewed lend further credibility to the already damning evidence about mass deaths in Syria's prisons," said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. "When the Syrian authorities are held to account, the deaths in custody will be one of the first crimes they will have to answer for."
All four former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they had witnessed the death of fellow detainees in Sednaya prison in Damascus following a combination of beatings, torture, malnutrition, and disease. The former detainees, who were held for between 21 and 30 months, most of the time at Sednaya, described abhorrent conditions and said that they had lost significant weight during their detention. One said that he lost more than half of his body weight, weighing only 50 kilogrammes when he was released.
Two of the former detainees said they had seen bodies being taken from Sednaya Prison to the Tishreen military hospital, also known as Hospital 607, in northern Damascus, corroborating Caesar's claims that some of the bodies were collected at the hospital, where he photographed them.
"The evidence of the Syrian government's crimes is already well documented, but these photographs represent further strong evidence of the government's horrible treatment of its opponents," Solvang said.