Hama's political detainees urge 'no violence' for their cause

Hama's political detainees urge 'no violence' for their cause
Syrian political detainees who took over Hama prison on Monday have requested rebel groups carry out no violent acts in their names, as conditions worsen in the jail.
4 min read
08 May, 2016
Prisoners have occupied Hama prison for nearly a week [Facebook]

Detainees who took control of Hama prison early this week released a statement on Sunday morning, urging rebel groups not to target civilians in their name.

One man, masked to protect his identity, read the statement on camera surrounded by six more detainees.

The detainees who have taken part in the revolt are peaceful political prisoners - opposed to Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State group - were jailed for their activism, a group in contact with the group has said.

"We are the detainees of the central prison in Hama. It's the sixth day of our revolt which we staged in protest of the false trials and to reject the death sentences on detainees," the spokesperson for the detainees said.

"We ask all the opposition military factions not to attack any civilians while defending our cause. Victory for our revolution."

Desperate conditions

Supplies are running desperately short, after the Syrian regime cut food, water and electricity to the jail.

Captives have been attempting to salvage the last scraps of stale, mouldy bread they have, as the regime attempts to stangle the revolt into submission. The detainees remain defiant, as calls for outside intervention by aid groups and NGOs mount.

Syrian regime security forces have meanwhile made several failed attempts to storm the prison over the past days.

Tear gas fired into the prison during the assault has resulted in dozens wounded. Detainees have fashioned improvided gas masks out of old clothing in preperation for further attacks.

"From the day's events we conclude that the regime wants to wear down detainees and bring them to the status of despair, [so that] they will be eager to conduct the negotiations unfairly," activists from the Detainees of Hama Central Prison group said.

Attempts were made by captives to gain access to water supplies from the prison courtyard on Saturday. Soldiers waiting on the other side of the walls sent gas cannisters into the yard, forcing the detainees to retreat back inside the prison building.

Meanwhile, around 120 sick detainees are in need of medical care, which has been rejected by Syrian authorities.

The group have appealed to the Red Cross and Red Crescent to assist them, while Damascus has blocked access to the emergency teams.

Forty five prisoners have been released, however, 30 through the Red Crescent and 15 via direct negotiations with the regime.

Prisoners of conscience

One suggestion put forward was an exchange of captives between Damascus-based rebel group Jaish al-Islam and the regime.

However, negotiations have so far brought no results.

Monday's prison revolt was sparked after guards attempted to transport five political prisoners from Hama jail to one of the country's most feared prisons.

"The prisoners did not allow anyone to go [enter], and that is why this revolt happened," said a member of the Detainees of Hama Central Prison group. "If they went that would mean they went to their deaths."

Those sent to the notorious Sedniya military prison in Damascus, rarely make it out alive, and the detainees now fear for their own safety after the revolt.

Detainees made desperate SOS please from the prison to international organisations to follow up their case and prevent a massacre.

In 1980, following the attempted assassination of President Hafez al-Assad, Syrian regime troops massacred 800 detainees in Tadmur.

More recently, tens of thousands are believed to have been murdered by security officials in Syrian jails since the start of the 2011 revolution.

The Syrian National Coalition - Syria's largest opposition group -issued a statement on Saturday urging the world to take action and prevent another massacre of prisoners.

"We believe that the international community is able to prevent any possible massacre against the prison inmates," said Taysir Alloush, a member of the political committee. 

"We, therefore, call upon the UN Security Council and international organisations - especially the International Committee of the Red Cross - to take urgent action in order to ensure the release of thousands of prisoners of conscience in the dungeons of the Assad regime."