Amnesty International has reported that up to 13,000 people, most of them civilian opposition supporters, have been executed in secret at a prison in Syria.
The human rights group alleged that mass hangings took place every week at Saydnaya prison between September 2011 and December 2015, authorised at the “highest levels” of the Syrian government.
The Assad government previously denied killing or mistreating detainees, but UN human rights experts said a year ago that witness accounts and documentary evidence strongly suggested that tens of thousands of people were being detained and that “deaths on a massive scale” were occurring in custody.
Amnesty interviewed 84 people, including former guards, detainees and officials at Saydnaya prison for its report. They testified that every week, and often twice a week, groups of between 20 and 50 people were executed in total secrecy at the facility, just north of Damascus.
Although it does not have evidence of executions taking place since December 2015, the group says it has no reason to believe they have stopped and that thousands more were likely to have died. Amnesty said they amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It also noted that death sentences have to be approved by the grand mufti and by either the defence minister or the army’s chief of staff, who are deputised to act on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.
The human rights group says it contacted the Syrian authorities about the allegations in early January but has received no response.
Last August, Amnesty reported that an estimated 17,723 people had died in custody as a result of torture and the deprivation of food, water and medical care between March 2011 – when the uprising against President Assad began – and December 2015. That figure did not include those allegedly hanged at Saydnaya.