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Beirut, 19 March 2010

Press release

The authorities of the Damascus Central prison in Adra:


Further harassment against political prisoners, amid silence from the
international community
A number of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners in the Damascus Central
Prison in Adra confirmed that the prison authorities have stepped up pressures and
harassments against them, as part of new measures that these authorities have added to
the long list of abuses against the detainees, in stark violation of international norms and
conventions.
SKeyes‟s Correspondent in Damascus, who was able to contact a number of detainees
currently being held in the Adra prison, said that “the problem began when a number of
political prisoners refused visits to protest the conditions of detention, and the punitive
and discriminatory approach used by the prison authorities against them”.
To protest against the prison warden‟s decision obligating the prisoners to wear the
uniforms allocated to criminal prisoners, the lawyer Muhannad al-Hassani, the head of
the Syrian Organization for Human Rights (SAWASIA), in addition to Riad Seif and
Jaber al-Shufi, members of the Secretariat of the Damascus Declaration, refused to go
down to the visits hall.
A Syrian lawyer who preferred to remain anonymous said: “the political prisoners asked
to wear civilian clothes when their relatives would visit, as they are prisoners of
conscience. However, their request was denied by the prison warden who said that they
are criminal prisoners, and they must hence wear the prison uniform. The detainees
responded: since we are criminal prisoners, why do you deny us many of the rights
enjoyed by other criminal prisoners?”
The lawyer also said that the restriction “reached the extent of prohibiting a large number
of political prisoners from attending the mosque inside the prison, because it is a perfect
place for assembly and gatherings, and even non-Muslim detainees began to go to the
mosque to meet prisoners from the other wings of the prison”.
Meanwhile, a Kurdish prisoner in the Adra prison said that he always meets his family
“with the presence of an officer who writes down every single word we utter”. He also
said that he and his family were forced to speak in Arabic, which is difficult for many
families, especially those who are not proficient in Arabic.
The Kurdish prisoner added: “I was threatened of being denied visitation rights, should I
continue speaking in Kurdish, and despite the fact that my wife does not speak Arabic at
all. Tears have thus become the only language we can both speak”.
A current political detainee said that he “is constantly subjected to harassment by
criminal prisoners sent by the prison administration to spy on him inside the prison and
during the „recreation period‟”. He added: “I and many other prisoners were denied
access to the prison library. Also, the books and newspapers we had were confiscated

Samir Kassir Foundation, Aref Saghieh Bldg.( Ground Floor), 63, Zahrani St., Sioufi, Achrafieh, Beirut, Lebanon
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after many sudden inspection raids made by the prison guards against us, while the
windows that were open between the prison wings were closed and communication with
other prisoners was restricted to a minimum”. The detainee also said: “we fear that the
harassments might continue, and to take other forms, as has been the case with some
colleagues. They were tried against the backdrop of information given by criminal
prisoners, and some were given additional sentences added to their original ones”.
A lawyer and human rights activist who preferred to remain anonymous said: “there are
no legal provisions in force that obligate prisoners to wear the same uniform as criminal
prisoners. According to Article 46 of the Syrian Penal Code, those convicted may be
employed in the works organized by the prison administration, according to their choice
at the start of their sentences. The prisoners cannot be employed outside of the prison
except with their consent, and cannot be forced to wear the prisoners‟ uniform”.
It should be mentioned here that the lawyer Muhannad al-Hassani had informed SKeyes‟s
correspondent in Damascus of his present situation and said: “I am under constant
observation inside the prison, and suffer from frequent harassment by the criminal
prisoners. They also seized the Al-Arabi famous Kuwaiti magazine from me two days
ago, and I am still being denied access to the prison library”. Al-Hassani also confirmed
to SKeyes‟s correspondent that “the conditions of all political prisoners are similar in
terms of the harassment and persecution by the prison police against them, and by the
criminal prisoners”.
According to sources in the Syrian human rights community, the Adra central prison
administration has been enacting a series of punitive measures and systematic
harassments against the prisoners, such as prohibiting them from being alone with their
defence lawyers, which is a right guaranteed by the Syrian laws and the constitution, and
also denying them access to the library and preventing them from reading and applying to
the baccalaureate exams, and even from sleeping on beds. In addition, the prisoners have
been placed under close surveillance inside the prison by other prisoners, were prevented
from communicating with one another, were subjected to provocative inspection raids
inside their cells, and saw their relatives being prevented from bringing them even
foodstuff. Also, the prison administration disallows participation in language courses and
other activities by the prisoners.
On March 11, 2010, the Human Rights Watch organization called on the EU High
Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton to raise the
issue of human rights with the Syrian officials, during her visit to Damascus that she
made in mid-March, and called on her to obtain pledges from Syria to improve its human
rights record.
The organization said that the United States and the European Union failed to achieve
any gains in the field of human rights in Syria, despite the U.S and European
rapprochement with the latter.
Shortly before Ashton‟s visit, the director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and
North Africa division Sarah Leah Whitson said in a statement that the past few months
“have demonstrated [that] talking to Syria without putting its rights record on the table
emboldens the government to believe that it can do whatever it wants to its people,

Samir Kassir Foundation, Aref Saghieh Bldg.( Ground Floor), 63, Zahrani St., Sioufi, Achrafieh, Beirut, Lebanon
Tel /Fax: 00961 1 397334, Mobile: 00961 3 372717, E-Mail Address: info@skeyesmedia.org
without consequence.” She also added: “A message to Syria that says „We only care
about your external affairs‟ is a green light for repression.”
The statement also said: “While Syrian officials are chatting up Western diplomats in
their gilded front parlours, they‟re jailing anyone who dares to utter a critical word in
their basement prison cells”.
It should be mentioned that Syria had requested that the signature of the partnership
agreement with the European Union be postponed, because of its objection the content of
a political declaration to be annexed to the partnership document, and which calls for
wider margins of freedoms, democracy and pluralism, and for domestic partnership,
political reforms, partisan pluralism, freedom of the press and for larger transparency
with respect to human rights.
Syria objects to this political declaration, and to the fact that this addendum is not present
in similar partnership agreements signed between the EU and other countries such as
Tunisia and Jordan.
On the other hand, the President of the International Association of Lawyers Corrado de
Martini sent a letter addressed to the Syrian President Bashar Assad, in which he
expressed the association‟s deep concern regarding the conditions of the lawyers Haitham
al-Maleh and Muhannad al-Hassani, who are being detained in Syria against the
backdrop of their activism in the field of human rights.
The letter said: The international association condemns the conditions surrounding the
prosecution and arrest of the above mentioned lawyers, and views their arrest to have
taken place in an arbitrary manner, against the background of their legal and human
rights activism. Therefore, the association, in view of the above, believes that the lawyers
must be released immediately without conditions. The international association also
deplores the manner in which al-Hassani was treated by the Syrian Bar Association, and
also deplores the disciplinary trial and proceedings against him. It has also come to the
attention of the members of the International Association of Lawyers that the trial of Mr.
Al-Maleh has started before the military court in Damascus.
The letter added: We are aware that al-Maleh suffers from chronic diseases that require
medications in a continuous and regular manner. Unfortunately, it turned out that he is
being deprived of his medicines and that he has not received any medical care since
February 18, 2010.
The President of the International Association of Lawyers also said that these conditions
that the detainees are experiencing violate the provisions of international conventions in
this regard, and which prohibit all forms of inhumane treatment in similar situations.
Another Syrian lawyer and human rights activist who declined to be named said that “at a
time when the lawyer Muhannad al-Hassani is nominated for an international award in
the field of the defence of human rights, the Syrian authorities continue to detain him at
the Adra prison, while his trial is taking place on charges of undermining the state‟s
standing, weakening the national morale and conveying false news that could debilitate
the morale of the nation…this is a shameful matter.
It is worth mentioning here that the International Secretariat of the Martin Ennals Award
for Human Rights Defenders, which is based in Geneva, announced the names of the

Samir Kassir Foundation, Aref Saghieh Bldg.( Ground Floor), 63, Zahrani St., Sioufi, Achrafieh, Beirut, Lebanon
Tel /Fax: 00961 1 397334, Mobile: 00961 3 372717, E-Mail Address: info@skeyesmedia.org
nominees for the award. They are: Mr. Wan Yanhai (China), Ms Aida Quilcué
(Colombia), Mr. Daniel Bekele (Ethiopia) and Mr. Muhannad Al Hassani (Syria)
The committee‟s decision mentioned that “These persons have shown exceptional
courage in their struggle for the respect of human rights in their country and continue to
take risks in view of their work.”
The Martin Ennals Award is the result of the collaboration of several international human
rights NGOs, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International
Federation of Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture, Front Line,
International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights First, and the International Service
for Human Rights. The award‟s laureate will be announced on May 7 during a press
conference, and the award will be presented on October 15, during the annual ceremony
held by the Martin Ennals Foundation in Geneva.
The SKeyes Centre for Media and Cultural Freedom would like to draw the attention of
international organizations, particularly those involved in human rights issues, to the
ongoing practices carried out by the prison authorities of the Adra Central Prison and all
Syrian prisons that detain political prisoners, writers and journalists. SKeyes call upon
these organizations to take immediate action and put pressure on Syria to end the series
of arrests, abuses and harassment in their various forms against these prisoners. SKeyes
also reiterates its call on the Syrian authorities to release all prisoners of conscience in
Syria, and end its arbitrary arrests against writers, journalists, activists and politicians.

Samir Kassir Foundation, Aref Saghieh Bldg.( Ground Floor), 63, Zahrani St., Sioufi, Achrafieh, Beirut, Lebanon
Tel /Fax: 00961 1 397334, Mobile: 00961 3 372717, E-Mail Address: info@skeyesmedia.org