Syrian regime must release 3327 medical workers detained or disappeared


Human rights campaigners and families of Syrian detainees are today calling for the release of 3327 medical workers who remain detained or forcibly disappeared by the Assad regime.


The doctors, nurses and humanitarian workers being held in underground torture chambers were arrested for their work saving lives and should be immediately released campaigners said. Over nine long years of conflict, Assad has deliberately attacked medical facilities and personnel to break the will of the people and to destroy evidence of his war crimes. Their expertise is desperately needed in the fight against COVID-19 in a country with a shattered health system.


Those living in overcrowded displacement camps and detention centres with little to no running water are particularly vulnerable to the virus but there are only 600 doctors in northwest Syria to serve 3.5 million civilians, including more than one million displaced.


Reports from regime-held Syria say doctors have been threatened with detention for just reporting cases of COVID-19 and last week the regime gave government employees only two hours to collect their wage packets, which resulted in crowds of people at dedicated cash machines.


Dr Hala Al-Ghawi of Families for Freedom, a movement for families with loved ones in detention, said:

“As Syria’s incredible medical staff work in the most impossible conditions to save lives and prepare communities for the inevitable increase in Coronavirus cases, they work in the knowledge that thousands of their colleagues have been sentenced to the horrors of Assad’s infamous jails. Colleagues who, alongside approximately 100,000 other civilians and peaceful activists illegally detained by the regime, are held in cramped crowded cells without proper food, drinking water, hygiene or medical care. If coronavirus spreads containment will be impossible.”


Mariam Alhallak, Chairperson of the Caesar Families Association, whose son was killed for his work as a doctor in 2012 said:

“Syria’s detainees are stuck in tight cells, sharing the torture, hunger, pain and diseases.

My son and his colleagues who were arbitrarily arrested from Damascus Faculty of Medicine were health workers who were detained for providing healthcare to those who needed it. They were tortured and denied medical care.


“Today, we can’t even imagine what will happen if COVID-19 spreads in the Syrian regime’s detention centres. Tens of thousands are in danger, including medical workers, who should be free with their families, doing their jobs supporting their communities in these dark times.”


Human rights groups, including The Syria Campaign and Families for Freedom, have been calling for the release of all detainees held in prisons and unofficial detention centres amid the rapid global spread of COVID-19.


Yet there have been reports that the Syrian regime continues to illegally detain civilians in areas under its control. Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented the arbitrary arrest incommunicado of at least 63 individuals including 17 children, by Syrian regime forces on the basis of the imposed lockdown mainly in the governorates of Damascus, Hama, Deir Ez-Zour, and Aleppo.


More than nine years on from the start of Syria’s uprising, arbitrary detention, forced disappearance and torture with impunity remain widespread across Syria. According to SNHR, 982 men, 96 women and 78 children who were detained or forcibly disappeared in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus between April 2018 and February 2020 remain unaccounted for. They went missing after signing so-called reconciliation agreements.


The Syria Campaign’s Executive Director Laila Kiki said:

“The regime is using the harsh realities of the global pandemic to punish those it wants locked up. Rather than consigning yet more innocent people to the horrors of its detention centres, it should be releasing all detainees and at the very least allowing access to international medical and humanitarian organisations to prisons in order to improve health conditions and provide critical sanitary supplies and medical treatment.


“The world knows full well what will happen to these prisoners if we don’t act now. We know the heartbreak of not being able to gather to mourn loved ones who have passed away at this time, but imagine the pain of the families of Syria’s detainees who have waited for years to be reunited with their husbands, brothers and cousins after they were arbitrarily detained. In the midst of our collective grief, let us show our humanity for Syria’s detainees.”