"A father can never forget his son ; I live on the hope of seeing him"
The father of a prisoner missing since July 2008.
At least 52 prisoners have been reported missing since 5 July 2008 when disturbances in Sednaya Military Prison led to the deaths of at least 17 prisoners and five military police. The families of the missing men have spent more than two long and anguished years trying to find out what happened to their relatives. The Syrian authorities have given no response to their appeals for information.
Sednaya Military Prison is a complex run by Military Intelligence, situated 30 km north of the capital Damascus. It currently holds around 1,500 prisoners, among them many people charged with links to banned Islamist groups, but also members of opposition parties, bloggers, journalists, as well as people convicted of ordinary criminal offences. They have extremely limited access to the outside world. Their lawyers are never allowed to visit them. Families must queue for hours to try to obtain a permit to see them from behind bars for 30 minutes, and under strict supervision by prison guards.
On the morning of 5 July, the trouble began when some Military Police officers threw copies of the Koran on the floor and stood on them during a search of cells. Nine unarmed prisoners who tried to pick up the Koran were said to have been shot dead by the officers. Some prisoners then overpowered the police and seized their guns and mobile phones. They called their families and local and international human rights organizations, and described the events. Communication between prisoners and the outside world then stopped.
The information blackout, including a year-long ban on family visits and all communication with inmates, has made it impossible to confirm the exact nature of the disturbances, how long they lasted or who was responsible for what violence. The authorities also suspended the Supreme State Security Court, a tribunal known to violate all basic standards of justice, where Sednaya detainees used to be tried, until March 2009, to prevent revelations by detainees appearing before the court.
There was no official and independent investigation into the Sednaya disturbances or public announcement of the identities of persons killed or injured. The families of at least 52 prisoners are still waiting for information about the fate and whereabouts of their relatives. Among them Nizar Ristnawi, a human rights defender and prisoner of conscience who was serving a four-year prison sentence and should have been released in April 2009. His family has had no contact with him since June 2008.