15 June 2011
Syria: Evidence of deaths in custody after Tell Kalakh
New information gathered by Amnesty International in recent
days indicates that eight men whose bodies were delivered to their families at
the end of May died in custody after being apprehended during last month’s
military crackdown on the western town of Tell Kalakh.
According to testimonies Amnesty International has obtained,
the bodies of the eight men bore marks which suggested that they may have been
tortured or that their corpses were mutilated after death.
Brothers Majd and So’dat al-Kurdy, brothers Abd al-Rahman
and Ahmed Abu Libdeh, Mohamed Adel Halloum, Kifah Haidar, Oqba al-Sha’ar and
Mohamed al-Rajab – mostly in their twenties – were reportedly seized by the
Syrian military on 17 May along with scores of other men during a military
operation against Tell Kalakh that began on 14 May.
The eight men had left their family homes and gone into
hiding after seeing soldiers seizing and beating other men in their
neighbourhoods the day before, relatives and friends have said.
According to the reports, all eight men were sheltering
upstairs in a house in the al-Sharqi neighbourhood of Tell Kalakh, close to the
border with Lebanon, when soldiers arrived at the door and ordered them to come
out. Majd al-Kurdy, Abd al-Rahman Abu Libdeh, Mohamed Adel Halloum and Mohamed
al-Rajab apparently decided to give themselves up and told their friends to
stay behind. As they opened the door, it appears that the soldiers opened fire,
wounding Majd al-Kurdy on his hand and Abd al-Rahman Abu Libdeh in his
shoulder. Mohamed Adel Halloum and Mohamed al-Rajab fell on the floor but it
was unclear if they were also wounded.
So’dat al-Kurdy and Ahmed Abu Libdeh ran down to check on
their brothers, along with Kifah Haidar and Oqba al-Sha’ar. According to the
reports received, they were also shot at and fell to the ground. It is not
clear whether they were all hit by bullets or whether some were merely seeking
cover, but Ahmed Abu Libdeh appeared to lie unconscious on the floor having been
shot in the waist.
As they lay on the floor, it is alleged that the soldiers
beat them with their rifles despite their wounds and pleas to stop. The
soldiers then apparently dragged them outside the house while continuing to
beat them and then bound their hands with plastic ties and blindfolded them,
before taking them away.
Around two weeks later, family members were contacted by the
authorities via local officials to present themselves at a military hospital in
Homs to identify the corpses of the eight men. They were reportedly offered no
explanation regarding the circumstances of the men’s deaths when they did so.
Shortly afterwards, the corpses were returned to their families for burial in
nylon sacks. The bodies of Majd and So’dat al-Kurdy were handed over to their
family and buried on 29 May; those of Abd al-Rahman and Ahmed Abu Libdeh on 30
May; those of Kifah Haidar, Mohamed Adel Halloum and Oqba al-Sha’ar on 31 May;
and that of Mohamed al-Rajab in early June.
Amnesty International has interviewed people who attended
the funerals and they have separately given similar accounts about the corpses,
which they saw at least partly naked because mourners had opened the nylon
sacks they were wrapped in to see the state of them. The bodies of both Majd
and So’dat al-Kurdy apparently had cuts to the chests and long vertical slashes
on the thighs, as well as what seemed to be gunshot wounds on the back of the
legs. Majd al-Kurdy’s penis was cut off, according to three witnesses, one of
whom saw his body as the coffin was placed outside his grandparents’ home and
the other two as it was being prepared for burial at the cemetery.
Two witnesses interviewed separately by Amnesty
International described the skin on the right side of Kifah Haidar’s face as
looking as if it had been burned or torn off and what appeared to be a bullet
wound to his chest. The bodies of Mohamed Adel Halloum and Abd al-Rahman Abu
Libdeh were both scarred by what seemed to be at least one cut by a sharp
instrument to the chest.
Those attending the funerals reportedly refrained from
washing the bodies in accordance with Islamic ritual beforehand as they were
already decomposing and, in some cases, were being eaten by worms.
The circumstances of the deaths of the eight men remain unclear.
It appears as if most, if not all, of the men were apprehended alive, although
wounded, in some cases seriously, by the Syrian military on 17 May and were
next seen dead by their families in a military hospital in Homs nearly two
Given reports of torture and other ill-treatment and deaths
in custody in suspicious circumstances elsewhere in Syria over recent weeks,
Amnesty International is seriously concerned that the men died as a result of
torture or other ill-treatment or that their bodies were mutilated after death.
These and other reports must be investigated fully, impartially and
independently and anyone found responsible brought to justice.
Mass arrests took place in Tell Kalakh on 16 and 17 May when
the Syrian military, accompanied by security forces, entered the town and
conducted house-to-house searches. Some were also arrested at checkpoints on
routes out of the town from which people were fleeing.
In the past two weeks, a number of men have been released
and have returned to Tell Kalakh but others remain in incommunicado detention.