Syria: stop enforced disappearances
“[I will] crush the throat of your son […] return him back to you like Ghayath Mattar”. Threat reportedly said by the leader of the raid on Muhammad Yassin Al Hamwi’s apartment. (Syrian activist Ghayath Mattar died in custody four days after his arrest on September 6, 2011.)
On September 23, 2011, more than 20 uniformed and plain-clothed members of security forces believed to be Air Force Intelligence arrived at the apartment of 65-year-old Muhammad Yassin Al Hamwi (also known as Abu Haytham) looking for his 22-year-old son Muhammad Muhammad Al Hamwi who was visiting friends elsewhere in the building.
The security forces arrested Muhammad Yassin Al Hamwi, confiscated digital equipment and other items from the apartment and destroyed property. They then proceeded to arrest Muhammad Muhammad Al Hamwi along with two other men he had been visiting: 34-year-old Ahmad Kuraitem and 22-year-old Shaker al-Masri. All four men remain detained incommunicado at an unknown location.
Since protests broke out in Syria in February 2011, thousands of suspected government opponents have been arrested and not heard of for long periods of time. Some subjected to enforced disappearance were released after months of secret or incommunicado detention. Others remain disappeared. The authorities refuse to disclose any information about their whereabouts or well-being, leaving their families in anguish.
Though the practice has significantly increased during the current unrest, Amnesty International has been documenting cases of enforced disappearance in Syria since the late 1970s.
An enforced disappearance takes place when a person is arrested, detained or abducted by the state or agents acting for the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.
Enforced disappearances are crimes under international law. In Syria, the practice is part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, making these disappearances also crimes against humanity.
Please send messages to Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria, calling on him to disclose the whereabouts and fate of 22 men including Muhammad Yassin Al Hamwi who disappeared following their arrests.
The most reliable way to reach authorities in Syria is by fax though you may have to try dialing several times. Please adapt the sample text below (you can also print it as a pdf using the link on the right hand sidebar).
President, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: +963 11 332 3410
Salutation: Your Excellency
Minister of Interior
Fax: +963 11 211 9578
Minister of Defence
Fax: +963 11 223 7842 or +963 11 666
Sample fax text for use as is or adaptation:
I am writing to express my grave concern about the increasing number of Syrians subjected to enforced disappearance by the security forces and the Syrian authorities and to call on you to ensure that the fate and whereabouts of all disappeared persons are made known to their relatives without delay.
In particular, I am aware of 22 men who have disappeared since their respective arrests. These men are Mohamed Bachir Arab, arrested in Aleppo on 2 November 2011; Anas al-Shogre, arrested in Banias on 14 May 2011; Muhammad Yassin Al Hawmi, arrested in Daraya on 4 May 2012; Abd al-Akram al-Sakka, arrested in Daraya on 15 July 2012; Hussein ‘Essou, arrested in al-Hasakah on 3 September 2011; ‘Imad Walid Kharsa, arrested in Hama on 24 August 2011; Mazen Darwish, Hussein Gharir, Hani al-Zitani, Mansour al-Omari and Abd al-Rahman Hamada, all arrested on 16 February 2012 in Damascus; Yahya Shurbaji, Ma’an Shurbaji, Mazen Zyadeh and Mohamed Tayseer Khoulani, all arrested on 16 April 2012 in Daraya; Mahmoud Al Refaai, arrested on 16 February in Damascus; Mohamed Osama Abdulsalam Al Baroudi, arrested on 18 February 2012 in Damascus; Shibal Ibrahim, arrested on 22 September 2011 in Qamishly; Salam Othman, arrested on 28 August 2011 in Aleppo; Ammar al-‘Aabsi, arrested in December 2011 in Aleppo; Dhia al-Din al-‘Aabsi, arrested in February 2012 in Aleppo; and Ahmad Hani Bakhsu, arrested on 25 June 2012 in Anadan.
As you are aware, the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by the state or agents acting for the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, thus placing them outside the protection of the law, is a crime under international law. As enforced disappearances in Syria are being committed by agents of the state as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, they are also considered to be crimes against humanity.
In this light, I urge you and the Syrian authorities to:
- Disclose immediately to their families or lawyers the fate, whereabouts and legal status of all those who have been subjected to enforced disappearances.
- Ensure that all disappeared persons are granted immediate access to their family and a lawyer of their choice, and all necessary medical treatment.
- Release immediately and unconditionally all those detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly or freedom of association.
- Release all others without delay, if they are not charged with a recognizably criminal offence and tried according to international fair trial standards.
I am sending a copy of this letter to Their Excellencies, Major General Mohamad Ibrahim al-Shaar, Minister of Interior and ‘Imad al-Fraij, Minister of Defence.