09/06/2011, 00.00

Red Cross visits Syrian prison

For ICRC Chairman Kellenberger, it is a first step. No details about the visit have been made public, including by the official media. Amnesty International has reported the death of at least 88 inmates, including ten children, arrested during anti-government demonstrations. Arab League secretary arrives tomorrow for a visit.
Damascus (AsiaNews) – The International Red Cross (ICRC) has been allowed to visit a Syrian prison for the first time since concerns emerged over the treatment of inmates by the Syrian regime.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said he visited Damascus central prison in Adra suburb on Sunday, and held talks with President Bashar al-Assad on Monday (pictured).

The ICRC had been asking for access to detainees for several months, following accusations of torture and humiliations against people arrested for participating in demonstrations organised by the anti-Assad opposition. Syrian authorities agreed to a visit only a few days ago.

A report by Amnesty International released last week said that at least 88 Syrian detainees, including ten children, had died in the past five months after enduring violence and torture, including burns, electric shocks, beatings and other forms of abuse. All the people who died had been arrested for participating in anti-government protests.

Despite limits set by Syrian authorities, Kellenberger said he was satisfied with the visit as a first step for more to come.

The local office of the International Red Cross did not release any details about the visit to avoid limits to future access. The final report will be available at ICRC headquarters, in Geneva, but it is not clear whether it will be made public or not.

Syrian state-owned news agency SANA did not report the visit, but only noted the meeting between the ICRC chairman and the Syrian president, Foreign Minister Walid al Moallem and the minister of state responsible for the Syrian Red Crescent Society, Joseph Sweid, one of the cabinet’s two “Catholic” ministers, and a member of one of the two “official” Communist parties.

The Syrian government is increasingly criticised for its repression of opposition demonstrations seeking Assad’s overthrow.

Arab League Secretary Nabil El-Arabi travels to Damascus tomorrow. He is expected to tell Assad about growing concerns in the Arab world over the ongoing crackdown.
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