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(New York) - Syrian authorities should immediately disclose the whereabouts and the reasons for the detention of Ziad Wasef Ramadan and free him unless there is credible evidence that he committed a crime, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch wrote to President Bashar al-Asad on May 28, 2009 to inquire about Ramadan's whereabouts and the reason for his detention, but has yet to receive any answer.

Ramadan was a colleague and friend of Ahmad Abu Adass, who appeared in a videotape shortly after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon in February 2005 claiming responsibility for the killing. Syrian Military Security detained Ramadan on July 21, 2005. The UN commission investigating Hariri's assassination interviewed Ramadan twice in prison, but nothing has been heard of his whereabouts since September 2007. Human Rights Watch also urged the UN commission to inquire into Ramadan's well-being.

"The Syrian authorities have been holding Ziad Ramadan for almost four years," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "If they have nothing to hide in the Hariri investigation, then they should immediately free him or charge him with a recognizable crime."

Syrian authorities held Ramadan incommunicado for six months before allowing his family to see him. His family last saw him on September 22 or 23, 2007, at the Palestine Branch of the Military Security in Damascus. Syrian authorities have denied them visits since then and refused to provide information about his whereabouts and well-being. Ramadan's family said the Syrian judiciary has not charged him with any crime.

The UN's International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC), looking into the assassination of Rafik Hariri interviewed Ramadan on December 1, 2005 during Detlev Mehlis's tenure as head of the commission and a second time during Serge Brammertz's tenure, which began in January 2006. The commission has officially informed Human Rights Watch that it did not ask Syria to detain Ramadan.

Ramadan, a Syrian, worked in Lebanon in the same private company as Abu Adass. Lebanese security services interrogated Ramadan following the airing of Abu Adass's video, but released him shortly afterward. Ramadan subsequently left for Syria. He voluntarily turned himself in to Syrian Military Security in Damascus on July 21, 2005, upon hearing that they were looking for him.

According to information obtained by Human Rights Watch, Military Security detained Ramadan for almost a year in the Palestine Branch before transferring him to the main prison in Homs in June or July 2006. His family was able to visit him regularly while he was in Homs.

In August 2007, Syrian security officials transferred Ramadan back to the Palestine Branch in Damascus without providing his family with any explanation. After repeated attempts to visit him, a member of his family was finally able to see him at the Palestine Branch on September 22 or 23, 2007. It was the last time any member of his family saw him; officials in Military Intelligence have denied their requests for a visit ever since.

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