Assad regime jailed medics longer than other detainees: PHR

Assad regime jailed Syrian medics longer than other detainees, report finds
3 min read
12 November, 2021
Health workers detained by regime forces for providing care to injured protesters were 91% less likely to be released from prison than their counterparts detained for political reasons, according to the Physicians for Human Rights' report.
The findings of the PHR report are based on a data set of 1,685 detentions that occurred in 2011 and 2012 across Syria. [Getty]

Syrian healthcare workers detained by regime forces for providing care have been held longer than those arrested for other reasons, according to a report by the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released on Wednesday.

The report by the US-based NGO revealed that in the early years of the Syrian uprising, health workers detained for providing care to injured protesters were 91% less likely to be released than their counterparts detained for political reasons.

The findings of the PHR report are based on a data set of 1,685 detentions that occurred in 2011 and 2012 across Syria, provided by the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), and the Violations Documentation Center.

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"The regime are focused on targeting the activists [including healthcare workers because] they are at the heart of the uprising, the regime want to punish them more than anyone else," SNHR chairman Fadel Abdul Ghany told The New Arab

"The Syrian regime destroyed their medical workers, captured thousands of them and killed hundreds of them, it has lead to lots of medical workers becoming terrified and leaving the country," he added.

Healthcare professionals detained for providing healthcare are also 400% more likely to die in detention than their counterparts detained for political reasons, according to the report.

The PHR report outlined this targeting of health care workers, particularly to those who opposed Assad, as the regime's way of "criminalising healthcare".

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Basel al-Asfar, an Idlib-based Syrian Neurosurgeon who was arrested in 2012 for 2o days whilst on shift at a hospital in the capital of Damascus, told The New Arab of his harrowing experience in detention.

"I was put into a cell, that should only contain 15 people, with up to 100 people, it was completely inhumane, the regime's forces didn't care if we died, lived, breathed, sat or stood," al-Asfar said. "I was arrested and tortured because I helped innocent people who were hurt by the regime... the 20 days I spent in prison felt like 20 years... they also arrested two of my colleagues, one is still missing but we heard that he is dead".

"We felt a lot of danger as we worked, regime forces entered hospitals I have worked in twice firing cluster bombs. In 2011 they entered an operating theatre and lifted the man we were operating on off the table who of course died," al-Asfar said, recalling an experience while working at a hospital in Syria's central province of Homs. "We know it's dangerous but people need help, we can't refuse them." 

At least 500,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, which has also resulted in over 11 million internally and internationally displaced Syrians, mostly as a result of Assad regime's bombardment of civilian areas.

Healthcare professionals across the country have been detained, abused and tortured by President Bashar Al-Assad's forces, who the United Nations say have arbitrarily detained tens of thousands of civilians since protests began in 2011.

More than 3,290 medical personnel still remain detained or forcibly disappeared by the regime, according to the SNHR.