An explosion of mass protests against the regime and its assaults on political rights in 2011 was met with a murderous response by Assad, leading to the civil war that continues today. More than 400,000 people have been killed and over 11 million forced from their homes by Assad’s war.
Between September 2011 and December 2015 as many as 13,000 people were executed at the notorious Saydnaya Military Prison north of Damascus, known to detainees as the “human slaughterhouse,” according to the report.
Amnesty also documented in a separate report last year that more than 17,000 people had died of torture and poor treatment in custody across Syria since 2011.
Arbitrary arrests and torture have marked the Syrian regime for decades, going back to the 1971-2000 rule of Hafez al-Assad, the current president’s father. Throughout the civil war, Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons and conducted barrel bomb airstrikes that target civilians and sieges to starve out neighborhoods. Some 75,000 people arrested by the government have been “disappeared,” according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
The reign of terror aims to keep workers and farmers from fighting the regime.
Many detainees at the Saydnaya prison, the majority of whom are civilians, have been sentenced to death in military court trials that last between one and three minutes, the report documents. Those condemned are told that they are being transferred to a civilian prison, but instead they’re severely beaten for hours. Then, in the middle of the night, they are blindfolded and hanged.
Amnesty said its report is based on dozens of interviews with former detainees, prison guards, judges and family members of those still incarcerated there.
“At midnight we heard the sound of torture,” Omar, a high school student when he was arrested, told Amnesty, “and we thought they were dying because the sound of the torture was so strong. They were beating them in a monstrous way.”
Sameer, who was arrested when he was a student at a military academy, said his beating “just kept going. I was wishing they would just cut off my legs instead of beating them any more.”
Since the Assad regime seized control of eastern Aleppo from opposition forces — with assistance by Russian airstrikes, Iranian troops and Tehran-backed militia units — they’ve stepped up arrests of anyone considered a government opponent. “The regime went from house to house with militiamen from the same neighborhoods with lists of those wanted,” Mahmoud Ahmad, who left the city in December, told the Wall Street Journal. “They arrested men because they had demonstrated against the regime or had repaired a car for the rebels.”
Some who moved to western Aleppo to escape the regime’s bombings and ground attacks in the eastern part of the city met similar treatment. “Whomever worked in charity or used to distribute bread or was in any organization is wanted,” Ghadeer, a former Aleppo resident, told the Journal. She said four of her co-workers “went to the regime areas believing that they would be OK because they had never carried a weapon,” but they were arrested.
At last month’s talks in Kazakhstan seeking a political settlement on Syria — sponsored by the governments of Russia, Turkey and Iran — opposition leaders said Moscow had guaranteed that the Assad regime would free 13,000 women prisoners, but none have been released.
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