Syrian prisoners go on hunger strike over planned executions
Detainees at a notorious prison in central Syria have gone on hunger strike, after a number of inmates were handed death sentences and the prisoners sent to death row, human rights groups said on Monday.
Hundreds of prisoners are being held at Hama prison, most detained due to their participation in the 2011 pro-democracy and reform protests that were brutally suppressed by Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The hunger strike was launched on 12 November, after 11 prisoners were transferred to Saydnaya prison near Damascus, which Amnesty International has described as "a human slaughterhouse".
"We started the hunger strike to protest against the death sentences against 11 inmates, and the decision to transfer them to Saydnaya," one prisoner told AFP.
They are demanding that the death sentences be overturned and also want guarantees that other Hama inmates whose cases are still pending not be sent to death row.
Detainees at Hama central prison took over sections of the prison twice in 2016, with the director and local police chief held until the prisoners' demands were met.
They were released following negotiations after the regime promised to commute death sentences and free some of the prisoners. Those who remained have retained some level of control over the facility.
Some of the Hama detainees have access to mobile phones has helped them bring public attention to their plight.
"This has allowed them to pressure the regime more easily," said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A video was posted on social media recently showing the hunger strikers holding banners urging an end to "arbitrary sentences".
"The detainees' ongoing hunger strike is a stark reminder of the flawed judicial processes in Syria," Human Rights Watch wrote in a statement on Monday.
Tens of thousands of Syria are believed to have been killed in Syrian prisons since the start of the conflict more than seven years ago, where executions, torture, and harrowing conditions are rife.