Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS)

Doctor Arrested, risks torture: Dr. Mahmoud Al Refaai

20 April 2012

Syrian cardiologist Dr Mahmoud Al Refaai was arrested at al-Mouwasat hospital in the capital, Damascus, on 16 February 2012. He is believed to have been tortured and otherwise ill-treated.

According to a local source, Dr Mahmoud Al Refaai’s family were informed of his arrest by a member of hospital staff, who claimed that members of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence had arrested him. This was later confirmed to the family unofficially through a contact inside the Syrian authorities, who also stated that Dr Mahmoud Al Refaai was held at the Air Force Intelligence branch in the Damascus neighbourhood of al-Mezzeh. The family went there to ask for him, but were given no information about him and were asked to leave.

Amnesty International has spoken to another doctor, who said he was arrested at around the same time as Dr Mahmoud Al Refaai, and held at the same detention facility. He said he he had witnessed Dr Mahmoud Al Refaii being tortured in the courtyard of the detention facility together with other detainees by methods including being placed in painful stress positions, and being forced to stand naked for long periods and have cold water thrown on them.

The reasons for Dr Mahmoud Al Refaai’s arrest are unknown; he is not known to be a political activist. However, the recently released doctor told Amnesty International that his own arrest and subsequent torture appeared to be related to the medical treatment he gave injured demonstrators and he believed that Dr Mahmoud Al Refaai may have been detained for the same reasons. If this is the case, Amnesty International would consider him to be a prisoner of conscience and call for his immediate and unconditional release.

Please write immediately in Arabic, English or your own language:

– Expressing concern that Dr Mahmoud Al Refaai has been held in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance since 16 February 2012 and urging the authorities to ensure that he is provided with all necessary medical care, protected from torture and other ill-treatment and given immediate access to his family and lawyer;

– Asking for clarification of Dr Mahmoud Al Refaai’s legal status.

– Calling on the authorities to set up a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the reports of torture or other ill-treatment of Dr Mahmoud Al Refaai and to bring those responsible for abuses to justice.


Bashar al-Assad
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Syrian Arab Republic
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The released doctor said he saw another doctor from Damascus at the branch of the Air Force Intelligence: Dr Osama Al-Baroudi, who is believed to have been arrested on 18 February in similar circumstances. It appears that his arrest may also have been due to his treating injured demonstrators. He also told Amnesty International that he witnessed both Dr Mahmoud Al Refaai and Dr Osama Al-Baroudi being held in stress positions, including the shabeh position (being suspended by manacled wrists or ankles from a hook). Apparently they were also forced to stand in the courtyard naked for prolonged periods, with cold water being thrown at them at regular intervals. Amnesty International was also told that most of the detention rooms were only 2 by 1.7 metres but contained 10 to 15 people.

Largely peaceful pro-reform demonstrations began sporadically in February 2011 but became larger and more frequent after the first killings of demonstrators the following month. The protests have been largely peaceful, yet the Syrian authorities have responded in the most brutal manner in their efforts to suppress them. In the year since then, although peaceful demonstrations have continued, the unrest has turned increasingly violent, with armed opposition groups, many loosely under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) carrying out attacks mainly against Syrian security forces. Amnesty International has obtained the names of more than 8,500 people reported to have died or been killed during or in connection with the protests and related unrest since mid-March 2011. Members of the security forces have also been killed, some by defecting soldiers who have taken up arms against the government.

Thousands of suspected opponents of the Syrian government have been arrested in the past 12 months and many, if not most, are believed to have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. Amnesty International has the names of more than 330 people reported to have died in custody in this period and has documented many cases of torture or other ill-treatment of former detainees. For further information about torture and other ill-treatment of detainees in Syria, see “I wanted to die”: Syria’s torture survivors speak out http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE24/016/2012/en . Amnesty International has also received many reports of individuals apparently subjected to enforced disappearance, where state officials have failed to provide families with any information concerning the fate of individuals, most of whom are believed to have been arrested by security forces.

Despite the Syrian government’s acceptance on 27 March 2012 of the six-point plan drawn up by the Joint Special Envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League on Syria, Kofi Annan, and the ceasefire agreement of 12 April, Amnesty International has continued to receive reports of arrests and continuing detention of people in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance.

Amnesty International has previously documented human rights violations and abuses against injured people and health professionals in selected Syrian hospitals. For more information, please see Amnesty International’s report Health crisis: Syrian government targets the wounded and health workers http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE24/059/2011/en

Since April 2011, Amnesty International has documented systematic and widespread human rights violations which amount to crimes against humanity, and has called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, as well as an international arms embargo on Syria, and for an assets freeze on President Bashar al-Assad and his close associates.

Name: Dr Mahmoud Al Refaai
Gender m/f: m