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17,000 Killed in Syrian Prisons Since 2011, Says Amnesty International

FILE - A Syrian opposition member of government shows what they say is one of the torture methods used in Syrian prisons during a demonstration in Beirut calling for more human rights in Syria, Dec. 10, 2009.

A new Amnesty International report details allegations of systematic torture of political prisoners and accuses the Syrian government of killing more than 17,000 people held in custody from the outset of the conflict in 2011 to December 2015.

The report is based on the recollections of 65 torture survivors.

The "catalog of horror stories" included in the report "depicts in gruesome detail the dreadful abuse detainees routinely suffer ... in Syria's notorious intelligence facilities," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Torture has long been used in Syrian prisons, but its scale has increased “dramatically" since the 2011 conflict began, according to Amnesty’s Syria expert Claudia Scheufler, who was instrumental in putting the report together.

"I was looking through one of our old reports from 1987,” she said, “and the torture methods that we documented then are scarily similar to the ones that we have documented now, but the scale has changed dramatically."

FILE - Inmates are seen behind bars in Aleppo's main prison, May 22, 2014.
FILE - Inmates are seen behind bars in Aleppo's main prison, May 22, 2014.

The Amnesty report recounts how survivors of systematic beatings were often surrounded by others who had died alongside them, and how the wounded were kept in cramped, unsanitary facilities, without medical treatment.

"For most Syrians, Palmyra prison was where the Syrian regime perfected torture,” said Nadim Shehadi, director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “The saying [went] that the lucky ones were dead, because life was made so horrible by the brutality of the prison."

New and often worse horrors surfaced in the past several years, when the Islamic State group captured Palmyra and other parts of Syria — including Raqqa, chunks of Deir ez-Zor and areas outside Aleppo.

The "inhumanity of the war keeps reaching new lows," Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, told VOA.

IS released video this week, he noted, showing the "slow-motion executions of young boys" who scrawled the word "resistance" in Arabic on the walls of Mosul in Iraq, while members of a rebel group in Aleppo beheaded a 12-year-old boy, joking that they were "worse than IS."

It is this inhumanity that demands action, according to Amnesty International.

"Historically we will look back at this and think that the international community was very slow to react, and we could have saved lives that were lost,” Scheufler said. “And that is why it is important that concrete action is taken promptly now, so no more lives are lost."