On the third anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Syrian human rights lawyer Khalil Ma’touq and his assistant and friend Mohamed Zaza, the undersigned organizations are reiterating their call for the two men’s immediate and unconditional release.
The two men are believed to have been arrested on 2 October 2012 at one of the various government-operated checkpoints en route from Ma’touq’s home in the Damascus suburb of Sahnaya to his office in Damascus. Requests for information made to the public prosecutor in Damascus by his family and colleagues in 2012 and 2013 only led to the Syrian authorities denying the arrest of the men. Since then their families and friends have not received any information from the authorities about their wellbeing or whereabouts. Released detainees have, on the other hand, informed Ma’touq’s family that they spotted him in various government-operated detention facilities, including State Security Branch 285 and Military Intelligence Branch 235 in Damascus.
Although it is not clear exactly why the men were arrested, their enforced disappearance is likely related to Ma’touq’s work as a human rights lawyer specialized in the defence of political prisoners. He has worked, often pro bono, with hundreds of persons detained solely for the legitimate exercise of their human rights. He is also the director of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research. In 2015, he ended in second place on the shortlist for the Lawyers for Lawyers Award for lawyers “who work to promote the rule of law and human rights in an exceptional way and are threatened because of their work.”
Torture and other ill-treatment is rife in detention centres operated by the Syrian security forces and detainees are routinely subjected to appalling conditions. Former detainees at Branch 235, where Ma’touq was reported to have been seen, said that they were held in poor conditions in crowded cells with inadequate access to food, water and hygienic facilities. One detainee said that approximately five men from his cell died each day, which he attributed to either the result of torture or disease, including due to the detention conditions. Ma’touq suffers from advanced lung disease and his life may be at risk as he needs medication and medical attention.