In the Media

Syria's prisoners: what type of people are in Syria's prisons right now?

PUBLISHED December 13, 2011

Some rare reporting on Syria's prisoners - who they are and what they have done

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A widespread street uprising has been ongoing in Syria since March, 2011. Today the situation in Syria is highlighted by the UN announcing the death toll is up to 5,000.

It's difficult to estimate the number of people imprisoned in the regime's daily detention sweeps, which are a core part of its security response to the uprising, because independent journalists are not allowed free access to the country.

The news digest of one Syrian National Council member puts the number of detained at over 40,000. Amnesty International says between twelve to fifteen thousand are detained.

Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the state news agency, says the state is arresting tens of "wanted men and armed terrorists".

News analyst Hussein Ibish says a key population of the uprising is the "poor middle class," comprising educated but disenfranchised youth in an economy with 40% poverty and over 20% unemployment (before the uprising began).

The most common reason for imprisonment is suspicion of participating in, or sympathizing with, the widespread popular uprising for the fall of the regime. Health care workers are often detained for giving medical aid to those wounded by regime forces.

Most of the current detentions in Syria are arbitrary and extra-judicial, with no arrest warrant presented. Arbitrary detention is prohibited by Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Syria acceded in 1969 and entered into force in 1976.

In some cases, prisoners are arraigned on charges weeks or months after imprisonment. Some experience revolving door imprisonment?each lasting a few days or weeks?which activists believe has the purpose of intimidation. Others have remained imprisoned for months, and new detainees enter the roster daily.

Torture, though banned by international law and by Article 28:3 of the 1973 Syrian Constitution, is endemic in Syria's detention system, and has been extensively documented in past years by Amnesty International publications. It often begins from the moment detention begins. Razan Zaitouneh and the Local Coordinating Committees have documented 161 cases of death in detention to October 15, some of which occurred in as little as two days in custody. She, with many other human rights workers familiar with Syria, believes it is imperative to document each detention immediately.

The small sampler of detainees listed here was gathered through consultation with a number of activists in Syria, including human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh.

The full data is in the Google Spreadsheet with Prisoner releases are noted in the rightmost column.

A summary of the data is in the table below.

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Data summary

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