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Absent an International Outcry, Detainees Start Hunger Strike for Justice in Syria

Demand Release of Arbitrarily-Held Detainees, Reform Unjust Legal Systems

© 2015 Human Rights Watch

Perhaps it is apt in a country like Syria, where the government has systematically rounded up peaceful protestors, that a protest for detainee rights is happening from prison, with little international outcry and support.

This week, Syrian activists started sending me videos and voice recordings they said were taken in Hama Central Prison, showing detainees announcing they would go on a hunger strike until all arbitrarily held prisoners in Syria were released and guarantees made that death sentences against 11 fellow detainees would not be carried out.

The hunger strike, which started Monday, came after a meeting in early November between prisoners, the Hama Governor, and a military field court judge aimed at regaining control of the prison, which detainees seized after riots in 2016. According to reports, the judge gave detainees and the prisons’ administration a list of 11 prisoners sentenced to death and slated for transfer to Sednaya, a prison notorious for extrajudicial executions, for their sentences to be carried out.

The detainees’ ongoing hunger strike is a stark reminder of the flawed judicial processes in Syria that have the power to determine the fate of thousands, and the unjustness of the sentences meted out.

Syria’s overly broad Counterterrorism Law criminalizes almost all peaceful opposition activity. By using counterterrorism court and military field courts, the government has targeted activists and punished peaceful dissent. While providing a veneer of due process and respect for the rule of law, both courts deny defendants basic fair trial rights.

Amidst all the talk of Idlib, returns, and reconstruction, little attention has been paid to the ongoing plight of detainees held within Syria. Accountability for past atrocities is important, but equally necessary is ensuring that ongoing injustices are addressed. The international community should demand that parties to the conflict release all arbitrarily-held detainees, and that the Syrian government reform the legal and judicial structures that made it possible for these injustices to be committed.

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