Report: Thousands hanged in Syria
Syrian authorities have killed at least 13,000 people since the start of the 2011 uprising in mass hangings at a prison north of Damascus known to detainees as “the slaughterhouse,” Amnesty International said in a report Tuesday.
It covers the period from 2011 to 2015, when Amnesty said 20-50 people were hanged each week at Saydnaya Prison in killings authorized by senior Syrian officials, including deputies of President Bashar Assad, and carried out by military police.
The report referred to the killings as a “calculated campaign of extrajudicial execution.”
Amnesty has recorded at least 35 different methods of torture in Syria since the late 1980s, practices that only increased since 2011, said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for research at Amnesty's regional office in Beirut.
Other rights groups have found evidence of massive torture leading to death in Syrian detention facilities. In a report last year, Amnesty found that more than 17,000 people have died of torture and ill-treatment in custody across Syria since 2011, an average rate of more than 300 deaths a month.
Those figures are comparable to battlefield deaths in Aleppo, one of the fiercest war zones in Syria, where 21,000 were killed in the province since 2011.
“The horrors depicted in this report reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign, authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government, aimed at crushing any form of dissent within the Syrian population,” Maalouf said.
While the most recent data is from 2015, Maalouf said there is no reason to believe the practice has stopped since then, with thousands more probably killed.
“These executions take place after a sham trial that lasts over a minute or two minutes, but they are authorized by the highest levels of authority,” including the Grand Mufti, a top religious authority in Syria, and the defense minister, she said.
Syrian government officials rarely comment on allegations of torture and mass killings. In the past, they have denied reports of massacres documented by international human rights groups, describing them as propaganda.
The chilling accounts in Tuesday's report came from interviews with 31 former detainees and over 50 other officials and experts, including former guards and judges.
According to the findings, detainees were told they would be transferred to civilian detention centers but were taken instead to another building in the facility and hanged.
“They walked in the ‘train,' so they had their heads down and were trying to catch the shirt of the person in front of them. The first time I saw them, I was horrified. They were being taken to the slaughterhouse,” Hamid, a former detainee, told Amnesty.
Meanwhile, Syrian pro-government forces advanced toward al-Bab, completing the encirclement of the Islamic State-held town which had been partially besieged by Turkey-backed opposition forces, state media and an activist group said.
Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition fighters, known as Euphrates Shield, have been trying to seize the town for weeks in fighting that has killed dozens of Turkish troops.
The Syrian government and the Turkish-backed forces are not coordinating their operations.
The Syrian government condemned the incursion when Turkish troops crossed the border in August. But since then Turkey has joined with Russia and Iran to guarantee a cease-fire between the government and Syrian rebels.
Both forces appear to be in a race to enter al-Bab, which lies at a strategic crossroads in northern Syria.
Turkey, which for years supported the Syrian opposition battling to overthrow President Bashar Assad, has recalibrated its priorities toward fighting IS militants and thwarting Kurdish aspirations for autonomous rule along Syria's border with Turkey.