Dozens of detainees at a prison in central Syria entered their ninth consecutive day of hunger strike today, after a protest was launched last week against death sentences that were handed down to 11 political prisoners.
Detainees at Hama prison who managed to speak to journalists over the phone said that the strike started on the 12 November, after several men were sentenced to death for their role in anti-government protests in 2011.
"We started the hunger strike to protest against the death sentences against 11 inmates, and the decision to transfer them to Saydnaya," one prisoner said, referring to a prison near Damascus, described by Amnesty International as a "human slaughterhouse".
The inmates are calling for the sentences to be dropped, and also want guarantees that other Hama inmates, whose cases are still pending, will not be sent to death row.
Last week, families of the detainees also protested outside the notorious prison, calling for the death sentences to be dropped; some of them are also taking part in the hunger strike in solidarity with those inside.
Syrian authorities are holding an estimated 1,000 people in Hama prison, including many prisoners of conscience and those detained in the wake of anti-government protests that began in the spring of 2011. #Syria #HamaPrison #Hama pic.twitter.com/fqxdmTA86G
— Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (@SyrianCenter) November 14, 2018
In 2016, riots broke out in Hama prison, during which inmates succeeded in taking the prison's director and chief of police hostage. They were subsequently released following negotiations, which also saw several detainees' sentences commuted.
Since the incident the inmates have retained some freedom in jail, with prisoners additionally allowed to keep mobile phones, which has helped draw attention to their plight.
However after speaking to the media last week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday that the prison has cracked down on detainees, cutting the internet and confiscating mobile phones, raising concerns over the safety of those inside.
Human Rights Watch has condemned the death sentences, and called for the strikers' demands to be met: "The detainees' ongoing hunger strike is a stark reminder of the flawed judicial processes in Syria," the watchdog said yesterday.
The Free Syrian Lawyers' Committee has also called on the international community for immediate intervention to save the tens of thousands of detainees in President BasharAal-Assad's prisons, especially those hunger striking in Hama prison.
Over 100,000 Syrians are believed to have been killed or died under torture in regime prisons – some 30,000 at the Saydnaya centre alone. Former detainees have testified to the conditions of their imprisonment, with dozens narrating their experiences of brutal torment in the regime's "dungeons".