Syria may have tortured prisoners to death

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International says dozens of people including children have died behind bars in Syria over the past five months. Some of them were reportedly tortured to death for taking part in anti-government protests.

"No less than 88 such deaths have been reported to Amnesty International as occurring during the period from April 1 and August 15," including 10 children aged between 13 and 18, the human rights group said.

The report is based on witness accounts by victims’ relatives, freshly-released detainees and human rights activists. The group also analyzed video footage of the bodies of those who reportedly died in prisons, taken after they had been released to their families. Amnesty did not undertake research on the ground due to travel restrictions imposed by the Syrian authorities.

In the case of at least 52 of the bodies, Amnesty said, "there is evidence that torture caused or contributed to the deaths." It also said some of the bodies were mutilated either before or after death, presumably to terrorize their families.

The groups said all 88 victims were male, and that the surge of deaths in custody “has been one of the most shocking features of the government's bloody crackdown on the protests.”

Amnesty believes that all the victims it lists in the report were detained in connection with anti-government activities. It also says no proper official investigation into the majority of the deaths has been carried out by the Syrian authorities.

The human rights group called on the UN Security Council to condemn the mass violations and take measures to bring those responsible to account.

Meanwhile, the conflict between the government and the opposition continues in Syria. Damascus has sent troops to the city of Hama to help police search for opposition activists, local sources reported.

Other reports suggested military helicopters were patrolling the capital, Damascus, as protesters flooded the streets. But when RT’s Irina Galushko, who is now in Damascus, went to check this, the skies were empty but for birds, and people in the streets were either marking Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday at the end of Ramadan, or going shopping.

Earlier in August, the city and its environs became the scene of a 10-day battle between armed rebels and loyalist forces. The crackdown, which the opposition says resulted in the deaths of dozens of people, has been condemned by a growing number of nations and international organizations.

On Tuesday, the EU failed in a bid to impose trade sanctions on Syria. The move was blocked by Italy, the biggest importer of Syrian oil and natural gas in Europe. Rome insisted that its current contracts with Damascus must be fulfilled before such an embargo could be imposed. The proposed sanctions will be reviewed in November, although some delegates said Italy might change its position sooner if the situation in Syria deteriorates.

Washington also came up with a new set of sanctions on three Syrian officials – the country’s foreign minister, Walid Muallem, presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban, and Syria's ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim Ali. The sanctions include an asset freeze and a ban on all business interactions.

­Media manipulation in Syria?

­James Corbett, the Osaka-based editor of the independent news website Corbett Report.com, says the latest report on prison casualties lacks the testimony of official Syria. 

Of course, Amnesty International’s report is based on eyewitness reports, not on-the-ground reporting,” Corbett told RT. “And it is based on the ideas of people who are being implicated in this, the people who are a part of the opposition to the government.

Corbett is perplexed by the images coming from Syria, which he suggests may have been subject to media manipulation.

There has even been the implication that some of the images being shown have been digitally manipulated,” he claimed. “There have been reports about that available online. You can watch footage which was taken in Bahrain and said to be taken in Hama; it shows the same footage on different stations, with different backgrounds digitally dropped in. Some very strange things are going on right now. Unfortunately, we live in an age when media manipulation is so easy, and it starts to be more and more difficult to tell reality from fiction.