A new report from Amnesty International charges the Assad regime with making over 65,000 Syrians ‘disappear’ during four years of civil war, an “organized attack against the civilian population” carried out not just for political gain, but for profit.
“Pulled from offices in the daytime or homes in the night, the disappeared are cut off from the outside world, and packed into prisons where torture is routine and death is commonplace,” the UK Telegraph writes of the victims. “Families can spend years without news of a relative’s whereabouts.”
When such news arrives, it rarely arrives for free. Asking the authorities for information on a missing loved one invites arrest. A network of “middlemen” sells unreliable information about the missing for hefty fees, which desperate families feel they have no choice but to pay. The UK Guardian describes these middlemen as having “close ties” to the authorities. The bribes they demand are so huge that some families are forced to sell their homes to raise the money.
“State officials are profiting from enforced disappearances in Syria, and given how widespread and common these bribes are, the state must either be expressly or implicitly condoning this practice,” alleged Nicolette Boehland, author of the Amnesty International report.
Some information about the “disappeared” came from the few prisoners who were released, and the occasional defector from the Syrian military. One defector, code-named “Caesar” in the report, provided photographs of “torture and murder on an industrial scale inside the jails of Damascus,” according to the Telegraph.
The Guardian cites former detainees who spoke of “overcrowded, dirty cells where disease was rampant and medical treatment unavailable.” Prisoners were subjected to “electric shocks, whipping, suspension, burning and rape.” One detainee spoke of remaining in a cell for three solid years, without leaving it once, while others went mad around him.
Amnesty International has called for United Nations monitors to investigate the plight of detainees in Syria. The organization said the Assad regime has not responded to attempts to discuss the fate of these prisoners. A similar report on prisoner abuses by non-state militant groups in Syria is expected within the next few months.