Inmates go on hunger strike at Syria prison

Inmates go on hunger strike at Syria prison

Beirut: Dozens of inmates in a prison in central Syria have begun a hunger strike to protest against a raft of death sentences, two of them and rights groups said Monday.

Hama central prison holds hundreds of inmates, most of them men who were detained in connection with the anti-regime protests that broke out in 2011 and the subsequent conflict.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and two inmates reached by AFP inside the prison, the hunger strike was launched on November 12.

It was a reaction to a decision to transfer 11 inmates to Saydnaya, a prison near Damascus which Amnesty International has described as “a human slaughterhouse”.

“We started the hunger strike to protest against the death sentences against 11 inmates, and the decision to transfer them to Saydnaya,” said one prisoner AFP contacted by phone.

The hunger strikers are demanding the death sentences be overturned and also want guarantees that other Hama inmates whose cases are still pending not be sent to death row.

Another inmate, who also requested anonymity, was reached by AFP and confirmed the hunger strike.

Riots had broken out twice in Hama central prison in 2016, resulting in its director and the local police chief being taken hostage and later released following a negotiation.

Many inmates were subsequently freed or saw their sentences commuted. Those who remained have retained some level of control over the facility.

The Hama inmates’ access to mobile phones has helped them bring public attention to their plight.

“This has allowed them to pressure the regime more easily,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A video was posted on social media recently showing the hunger strikers holding banners that demand an amnesty and an end to “arbitrary sentences”.

“The detainees’ ongoing hunger strike is a stark reminder of the flawed judicial processes in Syria,” Human Rights Watch wrote in a statement on Monday.

Tens of thousands of Syria are believed to have died in Syrian prisons since the start of the conflict more tha seven years ago.