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Amid fresh bombing, security forces torture children, says Human Rights Watch

Children have been detained and tortured like adults by Syrian forces fighting opposition protests, says Human Rights Watch
Children have been detained and tortured like adults by Syrian forces fighting opposition protests, says Human Rights Watch

REUTERS

Syria's bloody crackdown on dissent does not discriminate by age: children as young as 13 have been detained and tortured with impunity by Syrian forces fighting opposition protests, documents Human Rights Watch in a new report.

While fighting between regime troops and rebels shows no signs of abating, the Human Rights Watch report details 12 examples of children detained under "inhumane" conditions and tortured, as well as other cases of children shot in their homes or on the street, or arrested from schools.

"Children, some as young as 13, reported to Human Rights Watch that officers kept them in solitary confinement, severely beat and electrocuted them, burned them with cigarettes, and left them to dangle from metal handcuffs for hours,'' said the report.

The parents of one 13-year-old boy from Latakia said he was detained for nine days in December after being accused of burning photos of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, inciting other children to protest and vandalising security forces' cars. Security officers burned the boy with cigarettes on his neck and hands and threw boiling water on his body, his parents said.

A 16-year-old boy from Tal Kalakh told Human Rights Watch that Syrian security forces detained him for eight months in different detention centres after he participated in and read political poetry at demonstrations. In one instance, he was handcuffed to the ceiling with his toes barely touching the floor for seven hours.

"While I was hanging there, they beat me for about two hours with cables and shocked me with cattle prods. Then they threw water on the ground and poured water on me from above. They added an electric current, and I felt the shock. I felt like I was going to die," the boy was quoted as saying. He was only released after his father bribed a prison guard with 25,000 Syrian pounds (US$436).

A former adult detainee told Human Rights Watch that some children were subjected to worse treatment than adults, including rape, because they were children.

"In many cases, security forces have targeted children just as they have targeted adults," said Lois Whitman, Human Rights Watch's children's rights director.

The United Nations says more than 400 children have been killed in the crackdown over the past 11 months and almost the same number detained.

Some of the arrests took place in schools. A 17-year-old girl told Human Rights Watch that security forces entered her school and arrested all the boys in her class, after questioning them about the anti-regime slogans painted on the school walls.

Most Syrian schools are now closed because of the unrest, in which thousands have been killed since last March. Many of the schools have been turned into detention centres with snipers prowling the rooftops.

Human Rights Watch's report was also made available in Russian to target Russia, who on 4 February jointly with China vetoed a resolution that would have backed an Arab League plan calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

According to news reports, Moscow has been a strategic ally of Syria through decades of support for Assad family rule and a major arms supplier to Damascus, and Russia bristles at outsiders trying to dictate internal political change in Damascus.

The two countries' controversial decision came during the deadliest Syrian army attack since protests began in the country nearly a year ago. According to the International Press Institute (IPI), AFP stringer Mazhar Tayyara was killed on 7 February in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, which has been shelled by the Syrian army for days. He is the fourth journalist to be killed since the protests began, says IPI.

Syria's state-run media has denied launching a bombardment on Homs, insisting that "armed terrorist groups" were attacking civilians and police, say news reports.

As IFEX members point out, it is nearly impossible to verify activist or state media reports as Syria restricts access by independent media and has largely banned foreign media from operating inside its borders.

IPI press freedom manager Anthony Mills said, "The absence of independent media reporting in Syria severely hinders the world's understanding of what is taking place there. The role of a journalist is to report the facts, not to take sides in a conflict. We urge the Syrian government to end the media blockade and allow independent journalists to do their jobs."

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