HTS 'arrest and torture' Syrian activists: Human Rights Watch
Syria's Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has detained scores of residents in Idlib, following the capture of the province by the jihadi group this month, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
At least 11 civilian residents had been working documenting abuses by HTS or protesting against the group with six of those detained tortured by the militants.
Hundreds more are thought to have been detained by HTS in Aleppo and Idlib province, according to Syrian activists, as the group moves to cement its rule in opposition areas.
"Hayat Tahrir al-Sham's crackdown on perceived opposition to their rule mirrors some of the same oppressive tactics used by the Syrian government," Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said.
"There is no legitimate excuse for rounding up opponents and arbitrarily detaining and torturing them."
Human Rights Watch spoke to a number of people detained by HTS and the relatives of civilians who were jailed by the group and whose whereabouts are still unknown.
They were taken from their homes, checkpoints or workplaces by members of affiliates of HTS, where a number were tortured, including a 16-year-old boy.
Human Rights Watch has called on HTS to release those still detained and for Turkey to use its influence to pressure the group to stop detaining and torturing civilians.
"Solidifying power by spreading terror is never the answer," Fakih said. "[HTS] should cease the panic-induced frenzy of arrests, and instead prioritise protecting civilians in areas under their control."
Among those reportedly still being held by HTS is journalist Amjad al-Maleh, who was sentenced to death for allegedly collaborating with Israel and the US-led coalition to disclose the whereabouts of the militants.
Human Rights Watch urged HTS - and the affiliated National Salvation Government - to halt plans to execute Maleh. A HTS representative responded to the allegations by the human rights group, denying that civilians had been tortured and that Maleh had been sentenced to death.
The human rights group has also urged the Syrian regime and Russia not to use the presence of HTS in Idlib to launch a new offensive on the heavily-populated northern Syrian province.
HTS was formerly connected to al-Qaeda, although a predecessor group publically cut ties with the organisation in 2016.
The group captured the whole of Idlib province earlier in January, after rebel groups were forced to surrender.
NGOs and activists have voiced concerns about the presence of the hardline groups in Idlib, and the risks this could pose to civilians in the area - both from the militants and the Syrian regime.