Human Rights Groups Are Wary of Rebels' Prisons in Syria; There Is Little Evidence of Widespread Mistreatment, but There Is No Form of Oversight

By Hubbard, Ben | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

Human Rights Groups Are Wary of Rebels' Prisons in Syria; There Is Little Evidence of Widespread Mistreatment, but There Is No Form of Oversight


Hubbard, Ben, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Al-BAB, SYRIA - An elementary school hallway in this north Syrian city is now a prison.

Behind a padlocked gate sit 10 men, accused by the rebels who have taken over the city of theft, thuggery and spying for the regime of President Bashar Assad.

The head guard says all prisoners get three meals a day and one shower. All will be tried by the town's new legal council, and no one is mistreated, he says.

One alleged crook, however, has two black eyes.

"I flipped my motorcycle," he said, speaking within earshot of his captors.

An accused regime informer has a bruised face and red stripes on his arm, as if he has been lashed with a cord.

"I fell down," he said.

The Al-Bab prison is one of the many lockups rebels fighting against Assad's regime have set up after seizing areas from government forces.

These facilities report to no national or regional authority, causing concern among rights groups and leading to a wide range of practices.

One badly bruised captive told Human Rights Watch he had been blindfolded and beaten daily for three weeks. Elsewhere, reporters from The Associated Press saw former regime soldiers frolicking in a swimming pool with their captors.

It is impossible to determine the number of rebel detention centers, but interviews with rebel commanders, activists, captives and human rights researches in northern Syria - plus visits to three facilities - provide a window into the issue.

Little evidence has surfaced that rebels are practicing the widespread, institutionalized torture that human rights groups accuse Assad's regime of. But many prisoners bear bruises and scars from beatings and lashings.

A number of rebel groups acknowledge sending prisoners believed to have blood on their hands to the firing squad. Others realize the living are worth more than the dead and seek "blood money" from captives' families or try to exchange them for rebels held by the regime.

The captors also vary. Running northern Syria's largest known rebel prison, in the town of Marea, is a barrel-shaped former truck driver nicknamed "Jumbo" who has a bullet lodged in his head from a gunfight with government troops. Others are run by civilian councils of lawyers, teachers and Muslim clerics who administer a mix of Syrian and Islamic law. …

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