Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government secretly hanged between 5,000 and 13,000 people in the notorious Saydnaya military prison near Damascus in the first five years of the country’s civil war as part of its campaign to eliminate opposition to his rule, according to a new report by the Amnesty International.
The mass hangings took place over a five-year period between 2011 and 2015 in the Saydnaya prison north of the capital Damascus, and the bodies were later buried at mass graves outside the capital, but families were never informed of their fate, Amnesty International said in a report on Tuesday.
There are clear indications that the mass hangings are ongoing at the prison and known to detainees as “the slaughterhouse.” Its findings were based on result of a year-long investigation, including interviews with 84 people, including ex-inmates at the prison, lawyers, prison guards and officials at two key buildings, a “red building” in which civilian detainees were held and a “white building” that held former military members and where hangings were carried out in the basement.
And there’s no reason to believe the executions have stopped, the human rights group warned. The human rights group says up to 13,000 people have been executed at Saydnaya prison north of the capital Damascus in a “hidden” campaign authorized by senior regime figures. The report covers the period from 2011 to 2015, when Amnesty said 20 to 50 people were hanged each week, sometimes twice a week at Saydnaya jail in killings authorised by senior Syrian government officials, including deputies of President Bashar al-Assad, and carried out by military police.
The executions occurred at Saydnaya Military Prison between 2011 and 2015 under circumstances that constitute crimes against humanity, Amnesty said.
“The horrors depicted in this report reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign, authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government, aimed at crushing any form of dissent within the Syrian population,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut.
At Saydnaya Military Prison, the Syrian government officials have methodically and quietly arrest civilians, as well as military personnel who oppose the regime and organized the killing of thousands of people in their custody. The report stated that they are then put on trial (a proceeding that lasts three minutes or less) and condemned to death. On execution days, prisoners are beaten for hours, blindfolded, and transferred in the middle of the night to a basement of the prison where they are hanged.
Day by day Saydnaya Military Prison is becoming a “Human slaughterhouse” to its detainees. Amnesty International’s research shows that since 2011 the government is deliberately inflicting inhuman conditions on detainees at Saydnaya Prison through repeated torture, murder, enforced disappearance and the systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care. Amnesty International urgently calls for an independent and UN investigation into crimes committed at Saydnaya, as well as for the issue to be raised in talks with Syrian, Iranian, and Russian officials.
“The cold-blooded killing of thousands of defenceless prisoners, along with the carefully crafted and systematic programmes of psychological and physical torture that are in place inside Saydnaya Prison cannot be allowed to continue,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut.
A 21-year Syrian former detainee, Omar Alshogre, now living in Stockholm, Sweden, was spared execution during his nine months at the jail, he suffered from tuberculosis and his weight fell to 77 pounds (35 kilograms). One of his cellmates died of diarrhoea – a common occurrence inside the prison while another of his cousins died in his arms because he was so deprived of food and so weak he was unable to walk to the bathroom on his own.
Omar Alshogre said: “Death is the simplest thing. It was the most hoped for because it would have spared us a lot: hunger, thirst, fear, pain, cold, thinking.”
Last August, Amnesty International partnered with a team of specialists at Forensic Architecture, University of Goldsmiths to create a virtual 3D reconstruction of Saydnaya prison. They reported that an estimated 17,723 people had died in custody across Syria as a result of the inhuman conditions (deprivation of food, water and medical care) and torture since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, an average rate of more than 300 deaths a month. Between March 2011 and December 2015, when the uprising against President Assad began. This figure did not include the estimated 13,000 additional deaths, those allegedly hanged at Saydnaya. President Assad’s regime has previously been accused of war crimes and extrajudicial killings during the country’s civil war, which broke out in 2011.
In the past, Syrian government officials have rejected similar reports of torture and extrajudicial killings – describing such allegations as “propaganda”.
The United Nations (UN) estimates that about 400,000 people have been killed since the start of the war and other 4.8 million people have fled the country.