As COVID-19 Cases Rise, Syrian Detainees at Inimitable Risk
Syrian American Council calls for release of all detainees in Assad’s prisons to avert extensive spread of disease
WASHINGTON D.C., March 24, 2020 – As governments around the world work to contain and manage the COVID-19 pandemic amid mounting death tolls and depleted testing and protective equipment, more than 100,000 political prisoners in Syria are at risk of contracting and spreading the virus. The Syrian American Council calls on the U.S. government, international community, and United Nations to demand all detainees are released, in accordance with section 12 of U.N. Resolution 2254.
Syrian prisoners already face inhumane conditions, including overcrowding in confined spaces, torture, malnutrition, and nonexistent healthcare, leaving most in poor health and most at-risk of contracting the virus.
“We have heard from experts in the United States that prisons are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, due to the volume of prisoners living in close quarters, often without proper sanitation and hygiene available,” said Dr. Zaki Lababidi, president of the Syrian American Council. “Yet in Syrian prisons, detainees lack much more than the ability to maintain personal hygiene or social distance. Thousands of people live shoulder to shoulder in filthy conditions. This virus will run rampant in Assad’s prisons – if it hasn’t already – leading to countless deaths.”
Syria reported its first case of COVID-19 on Sunday, but the number of cases is likely exponentially higher given reports that infected personnel from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps entered the country earlier this month, in addition to unsafe and overcrowded living conditions, an overwhelmed health system, and lack of government transparency.
“The Assad regime has historically exhibited a lack of transparency, and the spread of COVID-19 is certainly no exception” added Lababidi. “A dictator responsible for bombing hospitals and enacting torture as penalty for dissent cannot be trusted to provide reliable information on a critical global pandemic.”
The Syrian government’s refusal to address the pandemic in a manner consistent with the seriousness of the virus should raise concern among global leaders and drive action to release all detainees in Assad’s prisons in Syria.
Michelle R. Taylor