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Amnesty: Abductions by Syrian Regime Drive Black Market Profits

  • Henry Ridgwell

"Ola" is 24 years old. She used to be a driving instructor in Syria, but she got involved with opposition activists, and two years ago she was caught transporting defectors from the Syrian army to the Jordanian border.

Speaking from her new home in Turkey, she describes her detention.

"I was held in solitary confinement for 25 days. There was no food. There were no blankets," she said. "They interrogated me normally at first, then they beat me with an electric cable."

Ola, who asked that her real name not be used, says she was hung by her wrists for six days and repeatedly subjected to electric shock. She was released after more than a year in captivity after developing a blood clot.

She's not alone. According to a new report by Amnesty International, at least 65,000 Syrians — the vast majority of them civilians — have experienced similarly terrifying ordeals, and many are still missing.

Not only is Damascus carrying out a systematic campaign of enforced abductions to spread terror and quash dissent across the country, the human rights group says President Bashar al-Assad’s government is profiting from a black market of "middlemen" who trade information on abductions in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We believe it’s so widespread and so systematic that it does amount to a crime against humanity," said Claudia Scheufler, one of Amnesty's Syria and Lebanon researchers.

The government is targeting opponents of the regime — including political activists, doctors and journalists — and also their families. Survivors describe horrific stories of torture.

“Being cuffed by the wrists and then hung up and beaten in that position; being held or suspended in that position for long periods of time; being electrocuted or otherwise also being exposed to sexual violence," said Scheufler, relaying accounts reported by the London-based humanitarian group. "And then when these people are being brought back into their cells, there is no medical attention so many people die in custody."

Scheufler also says the abductions have given rise to a black market industry investigators who are paid bribes by family members desperate to find out about their loved ones. Activists say the bribes are a source of income for the Syrian government.

Syria’s government has in the past denied accusations of abductions and torture.