Syria urged to probe ‘assault’ of jailed rights lawyer

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LONDON: Leading international human rights groups have alleged a Syrian lawyer was assaulted in prison two weeks after he was due to have received an award in Geneva for his record as a rights defender.

The eight groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Muhannad Al-Hassani, a political prisoner serving a three-year jail term at the Adra detention facility in Damascus, was attacked by a cellmate last week.

Hassani, a co-founder of the Syrian Human Rights Organization, was "physically assaulted" on October 28 "by a prisoner sentenced for a criminal offence who was being held in the same cell," the rights groups said in a joint statement issued late on Thursday.

The attacker was said to have been "moved into the same cell only recently and to have beaten him using a heavy metal finger ring," which prisoners are usually banned from wearing.

"As a result of the assault, Hassani suffered a cut to his forehead requiring 10 stitches, swelling to his eye and cheek, and bruising to his body," said the statement.

"The assault came two weeks after a ceremony in Geneva at which the imprisoned lawyer was due to have been presented with the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders," but he was in prison at the time.

Hassani was held with the attacker for another five days after the assault before reportedly being moved to a "tiny underground isolation cell," prompting him and other political prisoners to go on hunger strike, the groups said.

Police took statements from prisoners who witnessed the assault and interviewed Hassani in the presence of his attacker before reportedly taking "no action when the attacker continued to threaten him of being unpatriotic."

In June, Hassani was sentenced to a three-year prison term after being convicted of "weakening national sentiments" and "spreading false news," the rights groups said.

The eight human rights groups called on the Syrian government to "investigate the assault and protect Hassani from further brutality or ill-treatment."

They also called for an "immediate end" to the solitary confinement of the "prisoner of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally."

Among the names on the appeal were the International Commission of Jurists, the World Organization Against Torture, the International Federation for Human Rights, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network and Front Line.

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