Dictator Bashar Al-Assad makes farcical claim that there are no political prisoners in Syria
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Thursday farcically claimed there are no political prisoners in Syria, despite tens of thousands of citizens having disappeared in regime prisons.
"We have laws in Syria. We do not have so-called 'political prisoners'. This term does not exist," Assad said in a televised interview with RT's Arabic-language service aired Thursday.
The Syrian regime has held around 130,000 citizens as political detainees since peaceful protests broke out in 2011 which after their brutal suppression led to an armed uprising.
An estimated half a million people have been killed and millions more displaced as a result of the Syrian conflict, mostly due to regime bombing and shelling of opposition towns and cities.
There is strong and mounting evidence that the regime has tortured and killed thousands of prisoners. A former gravedigger told a US court this week that Syria was continuing to stack the bodies of dead detainees into mass graves.
Syria and Assad were already notorious for the mistreatment of political prisoners before the start of the war and torture - often with fatal consequences - in detention centres was and is rife.
Syria's president said critics were confusing "opposition to a person or a government" with "transgressions against national givens".
"There are many Syrians in Syria who do not agree with me on many policies... Those who oppose can do so, there is no problem and this does not affect me personally," Assad said.
Human rights groups say that all criticism of the Syrian regime is not tolerated and suspects find themselves 'disappeared' by intelligence services.
Assad's claims garnered ridicule from Syrians on social media. Some said his claims were laughable, while others shared graphic images from regime prisons showing the corpses of detainees who had been executed or tortured to death.
In the interview, the Syrian dictator also warned Turkey against conducting an operation it has long threatened for northern Syria.
"The Syrian army is not deployed in all the Syrian territory, but in the areas where it is deployed, and when conditions allow for direct military confrontation, we will not hesitate," Assad said.
Asked about the state of ties with other Arab countries, he said: "Syrian-Arab relations have not changed much during the war - most Arab states have maintained their relations with us and stood with us... even those that withdrew their diplomatic relations maintained the relationship."
Assad visited the UAE in March in his first trip to an Arab country since the war erupted in 2011, when the Arab League suspended Syria over its brutal crackdown on protesters.
Arab countries including Egypt have pledged to work towards having the Assad regime reinstated to the Arab League despite continued gross human rights offences continuing in Syria.