12 April 2023
Syrian families and human rights groups call for release of 135,000 still detained as US court opens landmark case into Syrian-state torture
Syrian activists and human rights groups launch a new campaign today calling for the release of the more than 135,000* Syrians forcibly disappeared or arbitrarily detained by the Assad regime in government detention centers as a landmark case into Syrian-state torture and detention opens in a U.S. District Court.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Syrian Arab Republic by a Syrian-American man for his arbitrary detention and torture by state actors in 2012. The case highlights the Syrian government’s broader systematic and widespread use of detention and torture as state policy, which endures in a network of government detention centers to this day.
Free Syria’s Disappeared, a new campaign led by detention survivors, families of detainees and human rights groups, says everyone should have the opportunity to seek accountability and justice for the crimes they have endured.
Wafa Mustafa, Syrian journalist and activist in Berlin, said:
“For years, hundreds of thousands of families in Syria have lived through a painful cycle of uncertainty; enduring the loss of their loved ones, snatched from them to be tortured and kept in the dark. Detention is systematic and tactical, an attempt to silence and suppress all Syrians because the fear of disappearing into Assad’s underground prisons is always a very real risk.
"The facts will be heard by the US court and these must shake the US government, as well as European governments, into action. They should be doing much, much more to stop the Assad regime’s ongoing crimes and enable Syrians to secure true justice."
The lawsuit filed by Obada Mzaik, a Syrian-American man detained in one of Syria’s most notorious detention facilities, was only legally possible in the U.S. because he is a U.S. citizen. Countless other Syrian survivors and families have no legal route to justice in the U.S or anywhere else in the world.
Yasmen Almashan, Syrian activist and co-founder of Caesar Families Association said:
“Working towards real and sustainable peace in Syria based on justice, citizenship and human rights must start with ending the torture and killing of detainees, releasing them; revealing their fate; guaranteeing their rights; and preventing impunity for the crimes committed against them.”
Through criminal proceedings in Europe, prosecutors have investigated and charged former Syrian intelligence officers with torture, but have not been able to bring a case against the Syrian government for its policy of arbitrary detention and torture. The Free Syria’s Disappeared coalition hopes that the U.S. case, as well as other accountability efforts, serve to highlight the enduring plight of the detained, the disappeared, and their families.
Kholoud Helmi, a member of Families for Freedom, Syrian journalist, and gender specialist said:
“Everyone has the right to live their lives in the light, and be with their families and loved ones. Every mother and father have the right to know the whereabouts of their children and to know they are safe and doing well.
“As survivors of detention, families of Syria’s disappeared and human rights activists, we are building a formidable international movement demanding freedom and accountability for Syria’s detainees. There will be no peace, reconciliation or reconstruction while so many remain missing. We believe that none of us is free until we are all free.”
Notes to editors
More information about the U.S. legal case is available via the Center for Justice and Accountability
For interviews with family members calling for the release of their loved ones, former detainees and legal expert contact email@example.com.