2013 © Private

Government forces arrested Ghada and Sawsan al-Abbar together on December 21, 2012 in the town of Daraya, just outside of Damascus. Ghada, 31, a lawyer, worked with a group of other lawyers hoping to start an organization to document human rights abuses. Her sister Sawsan, 30, worked as an administrator in Daraya National Hospital. The two women had gone into hiding when they heard that security agents were looking for them because of their involvement in peaceful political activities.

Apparently, the security forces had set a trap for the sisters using a friend’s mother. “She called Ghada and asked me to meet her and Sawsan at the Daraya public garden,” a relative outside of Syria told Human Rights Watch. When the women arrived at the garden, agents arrested them and took them away, he said. Their friend’s mother later told the al-Abbar family that security forces had threatened to torture her own daughter, who had been detained earlier that month, unless she helped them capture the other women.

Former detainees told the family that they had seen the sisters at the al-Khatib branch in Damascus, where Human Rights Watch has documented ill-treatment and torture of detainees. Since the sisters were transferred to Adra Central Prison in Damascus in April 2013, their family has been allowed brief visits. The women appeared before the Counterterrorism Court in June but have not been sentenced.

“Their legal status is confusing,” their relative said. “They are held arbitrarily, despite having spent the 60 days stipulated by law as a maximum for administrative detention. Their family has petitioned the authorities for their release, but has not received any response.”

“We are very worried about their psychological state. We did not expect they would be detained for a very long time. Now we are waiting. Our home is different without the two of them,” the relative said.