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Urgent joint appeal for release of prisoners of conscience and all detainees in Syria

For more than two and a half years, the Syrian government has been carrying out large scale campaigns of arbitrary arrests and has jailed tens of thousands of civilians including peaceful protestors, journalists and civil society and political activists. Hundreds of persons have also been detained by armed groups, notably extremist Islamic groups, which are increasingly gaining power in areas outside the control of the Syrian government.

In recent days, two Swedish journalists went missing in Syria near the Lebanese border. Their disappearance brings to 18 the number of foreign journalists who are kidnapped, detained or missing in Syria, according to a Reporters Without Borders tally.

The undersigned organizations express their utmost concerns for the fate of tens of thousands of detainees in Syria and urge all parties to guarantee in all circumstances their physical and psychological integrity and release those arbitrarily detained.

For more than 2 years and a half, the Syrian government has been carrying out large scale campaigns of arbitrary arrests and has jailed tens of thousands of civilians including peaceful protestors, civil society and political activists, aid workers and journalists, physicians and lawyers without sparing women, children, and people with disabilities and serious medical conditions. Corroborative reports issued by Syrian human groups indicate that thousands of detainees died inside governmental detention centers where detention conditions fall short of minimum human rights and humanitarian standards.

The whole criminal procedure fails to comply not only with international standards, but also with the Syrian Constitution and domestic regulations. Detainees in governmental detention facilities face on a daily basis the most severe human rights violations including the widespread and systematic use of torture during pre-trial and post-trial periods, widespread policy of starvation and deliberate neglect of health of some detainees leading in many cases to their death.

Detainees in State security detention centers, military prisons and central prisons remain held "incommunicado" for months, and often for years, in violation of domestic provisions. Thousands are detained in inhumane conditions in underground secret branches and civilians are routinely detained in military detention facilities. At this date, dozens of thousands are subjected to enforced disappearance. Civilians, including peaceful activists, are systematically presented before jurisdictions that fail to comply with the most basic guarantees for the respect of principles of fair trial, including military field courts and anti- terrorism courts.

Our organizations are also extremely concerned by the fate of hundreds of persons detained by armed groups, notably extremist Islamic groups, which are increasingly gaining power in areas outside the control of the Syrian government. Some of these groups forcefully impose a new social system in regions under their control, preventing the civilian population from practicing their basic rights. Hundreds of cases of kidnapping of those opposing their authority including by peaceful means have been reported, along with other serious human rights abuses. Local "Shariaa" courts that do not meet any basic guarantee of fair trial have also been established.

The undersigned organizations issue a reminder that the Syrian government is bound by the international human rights principles, even in time of war, and that all parties in an armed conflict are compelled to abide by International Humanitarian Law principles. All parties responsible of and involved in international crimes must be held accountable and prosecuted by independent and impartial competent jurisdiction that fully comply with international standards, either at domestic or international level.

The Syrian government should not use the expansive powers of the country's Anti-Terrorism Law or any other law to target human rights defenders, journalists, humanitarian workers and other peaceful activists. The Syrian government should also guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Syria are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

Our organizations hold the Syrian authorities and all parties involved in the conflict responsible for the physical and psychological integrity of the persons they detain. They must immediately take steps to release all persons illegally detained and grant access to independent monitoring mechanisms and in particular the International Committee of the Red Cross to all detention centers in the country. Courts that do not present any guarantees to protect the right of the accused detainees should be abolished without delay whether field courts, anti-terrorism courts or Sharia courts.

At a time of renewed attempts for a political compromise that would end violence in Syria, the undersigned organizations urge all parties involved directly and indirectly in the conflict to grant absolute priority to the release of all persons arbitrarily detained.

This statement is open for signatures by Human Rights Organizations willing to support the campaign for all detainees in Syria. In order to contribute, please contact freedetaineescampaignsyria (@)

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Reporters Without Borders

Alkarama Foundation
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Palestinian Human Rights Organization (PHRO)
World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)
Al Kawakibi Organization for Human Rights
Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria
Assyrian Human Rights Network (AHRN)
Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria
Citizenship Movement
Coalition of Syrian Women for Democracy
Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS)
Equal Citizenship Center
Equality Organization
Etana Press
Fardous League
Kurdish Organization for Human Rights in Syria (MAF)
Kurdish Committee for Human Rights (RASED)
Kurdish Organization for Public Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria (DAD)
Lawyers for Democracy
Legal Center for Documentation of Violations Al Raqeeb
National Organization for Human Rights in Syria
Syrian Center for Human Rights (SCHR)
Syrian Center for Legal Studies and research
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Syrian Democratic Institute
Syrian Human rights Committee
Syrian Human Rights League (SHRL)
Syrian Journalists Association
Syrian League for Citizenship
Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)
Syrian Organization for Human Rights - Sawasyah
Syrian Women Network Shams
Syrian Women League
Syrian Women Organization for State of Citizenship
Syrian Women Platform for Peace
Tawasol Movement
The Day After
Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC)

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