Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Syria: One year on, fears abound over health of disappeared human rights lawyer

"It’s been a year since Khalil Ma’touq disappeared. The eminent human rights lawyer and his colleague Mohammed Thatha were reportedly arrested at a security checkpoint while on the way to their office in Damascus.
And now there are growing fears for his health. Khalil Ma’touq suffers from advanced lung disease and has severe breathing difficulties.
As director of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research, Khalil Ma’touq was a thorn in the side of the Syrian government and, as a human rights lawyer, he has defended hundreds of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience over many years.
Now, Amnesty International considers Khalil Ma’touq himself to be a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for his peaceful activities. His friend, Mohammed Thatha, is also likely to be one, as his detention is apparently linked to his work with the human rights lawyer.
While the authorities deny holding them, Amnesty International has received credible information from released detainees who have sporadically reported seeing them in detention. His friends and family have received other unofficial tip-offs. The organization believes that both Khalil Ma’touq and Mohammed Thatha have been subjected to enforced disappearance.
“It’s an open secret that the Syrian authorities are holding Khalil Ma’touq and his friend. They should be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“At the very least, the authorities must immediately inform their families of their whereabouts and status, give them access to relatives and lawyers, and ensure that Khalil Ma’touq receives appropriate medical care.
This situation amounts to enforced disappearance – a crime under international law that puts both men at increased risk of torture or other ill-treatment and extrajudicial execution.”
Khalil Ma’touq was reportedly last seen in late September this year in the notorious Palestine Branch, a detention and interrogation centre in Damascus run by the Military Intelligence. He was said to be in very poor health at the time and Amnesty International believes he, along with Mohammed Thatha, may have already been tortured and continue to be at risk of such treatment........"

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