Summary and Current Status
In November 2005, under a presidential amnesty to mark the Muslim Eid holiday, the Syrian government released 190 political prisoners. Among them were two medical doctors, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Khayyir and Haythem Muhammed Yasin al-Hamwi, and one engineer, Mu’atez Muhammed Zuheyr Murad, all of whom had been long-time cases of the CHR.
Dr. al-Khayyir, who is 54 years old, had been incarcerated in Sednaya Prison in Damascus for more than 13 years. He was one of a dozen individuals arrested in early 1992 because of their links to the officially prohibited Party for Communist Action (PCA). Three and a half years later, in August 1995, he was tried in a mass trial that included hundreds of other PCA members and supporters. He was convicted and sentenced by the State Security Supreme Court (SSSC) to 22 years in prison, reportedly the longest prison sentence ever to have been handed down by the SSSC. He was convicted of having membership in, or links with, an organization [PCA] that allegedly engages in terrorist activity and armed violence. This verdict was reportedly reached despite the fact that prosecutors presented no evidence to suggest that the PCA had ever used or advocated violence. Dr. al-Khayyir was considered by Amnesty International to be a prisoner of conscience. In 2001 all of the PCA members arrested with Dr. al-Khayyir were released in an amnesty. It is not clear why he was not freed at that time as well. It is our understanding that, throughout his detention, Dr. al-Khayyir regularly provided medical advice and care to prisoners at Sednaya prison.
Dr. al-Hamwi and Mr. Murad were among 22 people arrested in the town of Darya in May 2003 after participating in a silent march protesting the invasion of Iraq. They reportedly were also involved in a loosely organized network of townspeople who established a free library, cleaned the town streets, and discouraged bribery and smoking. In April 2004 they were convicted and sentenced by a secret Field Military Court—which normally investigates offences during war time or military operations—to four years and three years in prison respectively for allegedly “attempting to establish a religious organization, involvement in unlicensed social activities and attending unlicensed religious and intellectual classes.” Both men reportedly were tortured while in prison.