(New York) - The Syrian authorities should release Ziad Ramadan, whom the Syrian authorities falsely claim is detained so he can be interviewed by the international body investigating the assassination of Rafic Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon, Alkarama, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch said today. The following is the statement from the three groups:

Alkarama, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch call again upon the Syrian authorities to release immediately Ziad Ramadan, who was arrested five years ago this week. After such a long detention without charge, there can be no legal justification for his imprisonment.

The three international human rights organizations are concerned that the Syrian authorities continue to hold Ziad Ramadan, a 34-year-old Syrian national, without charge, more than two years after the organizations began appealing for him to be released or charged immediately.

Ziad Ramadan has never been able to challenge the grounds for his detention, which appear politically motivated. Syrian authorities have not informed him in five years of detention of the reason for his arrest and have never brought him before a court. They first refused to allow him to choose his lawyer and then appointed lawyers for him; he has still never met them, according to the latest information received by the organizations.

The Syrian authorities have claimed to the United Nations (UN) that they are detaining him so that the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) looking into the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri can interview him.

The Syrian government stated this on 17 February 2009 in a response to a 16 October 2008 joint appeal on behalf of Ziad Ramadan by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, saying that Ziad Ramadan "was placed in protective custody in order to ensure that he could be presented to the Commission [UNIIIC] in a timely manner."

The UNIIIC has, in fact, already met with Ziad Ramadan on two occasions, in December 2005 and in early 2006, when it learned of his detention in Syria. It interviewed him as a witness, as he worked in Lebanon with Ahmed Abu ‘Adas, a Beirut resident who appeared on a video shortly after the killing of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, claiming responsibility for the assassination on behalf of a previously unknown militant group.

The Lebanese authorities had interviewed Ziad Ramadan after the video was aired but did not detain him. A UN fact-finding mission sent to Lebanon to investigate Rafic Hariri's killing concluded in March 2005 that there was little evidence to believe the statement of Ahmed Abu ‘Adas. The Office of the Prosecutor for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is prosecuting the case of the Hariri assassination, has informed the international human rights organizations (although it has yet to state this publicly) that it has informed the Syrian authorities that neither the UNIIIC nor the Office of the Prosecutor of the STL requested the detention of Mr. Ramadan and that the Office of the Prosecutor of the STL does not expect to call Mr. Ramadan as a witness.

Ziad Ramadan's five-year nightmare began when he presented himself as summoned to the Syrian Military Intelligence headquarters in Damascus on 20 July 2005. The authorities did not inform him of the reason for his arrest and detained him from that day for six months in an underground cell, reported to measure around 1m by 2m and to lack air vents, windows and therefore light, at the notorious Palestine Branch of Military Intelligence, in Damascus. For more than two weeks, they did not inform his family of his detention or his whereabouts, and only permitted them to visit him twice during the six months. He was reportedly subjected to beatings and psychological torture, such as being told that screams he could hear were of his family members.

On 21 May 2006, he was transferred to a prison in Homs, north of Damascus, where he received regular family visits. He was then returned on 21 September 2007 to the Palestine Branch, where he is believed to remain in one of the underground cells.

Individuals who have seen Ziad Ramadan in the past year describe him as being in poor physical and mental condition, very skinny with protruding ribs, very white and hairy, and with wild-looking, wide eyes. There are also fears for his heart, as he has been denied any medication for a heart-valve complaint. During this second period of detention at the Palestine Branch, which has so far lasted close to three years, his jailers have permitted him only four family visits, all in the company of prison officials.

Alkarama, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urge the Syrian authorities to release Ziad Ramadan immediately without charge.