By Mahsa Maleki, Syria Country Specialist for Amnesty USA
The Syrian government has once again responded to peaceful protests with bullets and armor. Amnesty International insists that the government halt its attacks and allow its citizens to fulfill their rights under international law to peaceful demonstrations.
The protests in Syria to demand political reform started on March 15, 2011, and scores of people have since been injured or killed. President Bashar Assad promised that he would reform the political system, but these promises remain hollow as the brutal crackdown on protesters and political critics continues.
The Syrian government has long imposed severe penalties on those demanding for political reform. Government critics are often detained for prolonged periods, or sentenced to prison terms after unfair trials. Torture and other ill-treatment is common, often committed with impunity.
The protests in Syria began in the town of Dera’a, where residents had asked, among other political demands, for the release of more than 30 children, many only 10 years old, detained for several weeks after being accused of writing “the people want the fall of the regime” on a wall.
As the protests spread across Syria, the death toll resulting from the government’s brutal crackdown is disturbing: Last Friday, at least 75 people were killed — among them were two boys ages 7 and 10, and a 70 year old man — bringing the overall death toll to nearly 400. In addition to the indiscriminate killings of protesters, there have been reports of hundreds of people being detained incommunicado, reportedly tortured or ill-treated.
Protests have continued since last Friday’s deadly attacks as have security forces’ attacks against peaceful protesters. Today (Monday), news organizations reported that Syrian troops raided the city of Dera’a targeting its residents.
As Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, stated today, the Syrian government must protect peaceful protesters, and must immediately halt the use of violence and conduct a full and independent investigation into the killings, and to bring those responsible to justice.
Moreover, President Assad had promised on March 25, and again on April 11, that all those arrested in connection with peaceful protests were to be released. Call on him to make true his promise.