Syrian NGOs demand release of over 90 detainees held 'unfairly' in Turkish prison
Syrian human rights groups and NGOs have signed an open letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and UN Human Rights Commissioner Michele Bachelet calling for the release of over 90 detainees held by the Turkish-allied "Syrian National Army" (SNA) group.
The detainees are being held at the Hilvan Prison in Sanliurfa province in southern Turkey. They were detained by the SNA in October and November 2019 in the areas of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, during and after Turkey's "Operation Peace Spring" against Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria.
The 41 rights groups and NGOs who signed the letter fear that the detainees are at risk from the coronavirus and could be subjected to unfair trials in Turkish courts. The detainees were held in jails in Syria before being transferred to Hilvan Prison.
They have been charged with offences including "threatening the unity of the Turkish state", "attempting to divide the country [Turkey]" and "membership in an armed terrorist organization (the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces)" even though they have committed no crime on Turkish soil, according to the letter's signatories.
The detainees include both Arabs and Kurds according to the letter’s signatories, who say that trying them in Turkish courts is a violation of international law. The trials have now been indefinitely postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.
The letter calls for the immediate release of the detainees and their transportation to Syria, for the UN to intervene to stop their trials and for UN and independent organizations to have access to them, as well as for the granting of family visits.
The 41 signatories include the Kurdish Human Rights Committee and the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression.
Turkey, assisted by Syrian proxy militias, launched "Operation Peace Spring" in October last year against Kurdish militias affiliated to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria last year, occupying a 32 kilometre wide strip of territory along the Syrian-Turkish border after Kurdish militias were forced to withdraw.
Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee by the Turkish attack, and Turkey's Syrian proxy militias were accused of human rights abuses.