A new report from Amnesty International alleges that as many as 13,000 people have been hanged at a Syrian prison as part of what the human rights group has described as the government's "calculated campaign of extrajudicial executions." Prisoners were allegedly moved from their cells "in the middle of the night" in groups of 50 or less and hanged to death between 2011 and 2015 at Saydnaya Prison, CNN reported Tuesday. The full report, entitled Human Slaughterhouse, says these actions were authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government.
"We demand that the Syrian authorities immediately cease extrajudicial executions and torture and inhuman treatment at Saydnaya Prison and in all other government prisons across Syria," Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Director for Research in Beirut, said. "Russia and Iran, the government's closest allies, must press for an end to these murderous detention policies." The report also accuses the government of enacting systematic deprivation of food, medicine, and water.
Speaking with CNN Tuesday, Amnesty International researcher Nicolette Waldman called for the UN to take immediate action regarding the findings of their investigation. "I want to be very clear that these practices are unacceptable, and they have to stop," Waldman said. "They have to be brought to an end."
Before the alleged victims are hanged, they are reportedly subjected to "Military Field Court" proceedings. Despite the name, these proceedings reportedly share zero resemblance with an actual trial:
"The convictions issued by this so-called court are based on false confessions extracted from detainees under torture. Detainees are not allowed access to a lawyer or given an opportunity to defend themselves—most have been subjected to enforced disappearance, held in secret and cut off from the outside world. Those who are condemned to death do not find out about their sentences until minutes before they are hanged."
A former military officer, referred to in the report only as "Hamid," provided a harrowing account of the prisoner transportation and subsequent hanging process. "If you put your ears on the floor, you could hear the sound of a kind of gurgling," Hamid, arrested in 2011, recalled. "This would last around 10 minutes…We were sleeping on top of the sound of people choking to death." An unnamed former judge who witnessed multiple hangings explained that younger prisoners would often survive the hanging due to their diminished weight, at which point "officers' assistants" would pull them to the ground and break their necks.
Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, claimed to reporters in November that the United States was to blame for the government's image. "I'm just a headline—the bad president the bad guy, who is killing the good guys," Assad told the New York Times. "You know this narrative. The real reason is toppling the government. This government doesn't fit the criteria of the United States."
Read Amnesty International's full report here.