Syria: Calm restored in Hama prison after mutiny

Dozens of prisoners held without charge released from jail after deal, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

hama prison riot
Prisoners reportedly took guards hostage during riots last week [Al Jazeera]

Calm has returned to a Syrian prison after a deal was struck to end a week-long revolt by mostly political detainees, a monitoring group has said.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said 83 prisoners held without charge have been released from Hama Central Prison since last week as part of the deal.

“The revolt has ended,” he told Al Jazeera over the phone from the UK on Tuesday.

Hundreds of detainees revolted last week after five inmates were to be taken to the notorious Sednaya prison near Damascus so death sentences passed by an extra-judicial military tribunal could be carried out.

The Syrian Observatory said the Red Crescent was involved in brokering negotiations that led to the prisoners’ release.

Inmates made appeals to the International Committee of the Red Cross after prison officials cut electricity and water amid food shortages and serious medical conditions among some of the inmates, the Observatory said

Last week, sources inside the jail and the Observatory said government forces encircled the prison and fired tear gas as prisoners took captive the warden and several guards during heavy clashes.

READ MORE: Syria: Hama prison besieged as inmates riot

The Observatory said the prisoners, many of whom are detained without charge, demanded “basic rights”, including a fair trial or release.

The Ajnad al-Sham rebel group vowed to attack government forces and armed groups loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if the prisoners’ demands were not met.

Syrian state media made no mention of a prison riot at the time, and Interior Minister Mohammad al-Shaar insisted on Monday that the situation in the prison was normal, contrary to the “lies and fabrications spread by malicious media outlets as part of their anti-Syria propaganda”.

Shaar and Justice Minister Najm Hamad al-Ahmad visited the jail and inspected the situation, Syria’s state news agency SANA said, adding that the two ministers promised to “provide inmates’ needs and ensure that none of them are subjected to grievances”. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday that its researchers had been in contact with three inmates who told them five detainees refused to be transferred as they had been sentenced to death by Syria’s military field court, which has secret, closed-door proceedings that do not meet basic fair trial standards.

Other prisoners rioted in solidarity and took seven prison guards hostage, the inmates said.

“The standoff at the prison and the high risk of casualties shows the need for the international community to take effective measures to ensure the release of arbitrarily held detainees, make independent monitoring of detention facilities a priority, and ensure fair trials for all those detained,” HRW said in a statement.

“The UN Security Council has repeatedly demanded the release of all arbitrarily detained persons in Syria, but there has been no progress,” the statement said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies