Deal ‘ends mutiny at Syria prison’

A still image taken from a video uploaded on a social media website purportedly showing security forces walking outside Hama Prison, Syria (7 May 2016)Image copyright

Image caption

Government forces surrounded the Hama Central Prison and twice attempted to storm it

A deal is reported to have been reached to end a mutiny at a prison in Syria by hundreds of mostly political detainees.

Sheikh Nawwaf al-Melhem, a leader of the officially-tolerated opposition People’s Party, told the BBC he had brokered an agreement between the state and inmates at Hama Central Prison.

The government has not commented on the reported deal.

But Sheikh Nawwaf said the prison’s electricity and water supplies had been restored and its governor had returned.

The prisoners took guards hostage about a week ago as they tried to halt the transfer of several fellow inmates to another facility where they believed they could be executed.

Security forces surrounded the jail, but twice failed to retake control of it by force.

‘Releases agreed’

Sheikh Nawwaf, who is also a prominent tribal leader in central Syria, said he travelled to Hama Prison on Saturday afternoon.

The inmates’ demands focused on ensuring fair and speedy trials for those detained without trial, and the release of those held without charge, he added.

Sheikh Nawwaf presented the demands to the ministers of justice and interior when they arrived in Hama on Sunday.

He said a deal to end the mutiny was reached later that day and included a promise from the government of fair trials for political detainees.

Leading rights activist Mazen Darwish, who is in touch with the prisoners, confirmed that a verbal agreement had been reached, but did not give any details.

Another activist told Reuters news agency the government had “agreed to most of our demands to release those political detainees held without charge”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the conflict in Syria, reported that 26 detainees would be released soon.

‘Worst nightmare’

The reported deal came after conditions worsened inside the prison, with authorities cutting electricity and water supplies, and inmates reporting a food shortage and serious medical cases.

Security forces also tried to storm the cell block where the prisoners were holding out on Friday and Saturday, using tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.

The BBC was told that 15 prisoners were shot and wounded.

The revolt was sparked by a move to transfer several detainees to the notorious Sednaya Prison near Damascus.

“You can’t imagine, even in your worst nightmare, what kind of torture in Sednaya,” a lawyer who is in contact with the prisoners told the BBC.

“Where someone has a decision to transport to Sednaya, believe me, he will prefer to kill himself, because he will die, but slowly, slowly.”

One activist group, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, has documented the arrest and detention of more than 117,000 people in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

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