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Syrians seek word of loved ones missing in regime jails

Around 105,000 have died in custody, while others have been released, but tens of thousands remain unaccounted for, according to a UK-based monitoring group.

Published: Updated:

More than 70 families gathered in the rebel-held Syrian town of Azaz on Friday to highlight the plight of loved ones missing in the government’s feared jail system.

Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, nearly one million people have been detained in the network of prisons and camps run by the various security services, according to Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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Of those, around 105,000 have died in custody, while others have been released, but tens of thousands remain unaccounted for, according to Observatory figures.

Lama Andani said it was nine years since her husband was arrested.

For 18 months, she had received some updates indirectly, but then nothing.

“I know what it’s like to be tortured in the jails of the regime,” said Andani, who said she spent nine years in prison during a previous outbreak of political unrest in Syria during the 1980s.

“We came here in the hope of getting our message through to the international community... so that it isn’t forgotten.

“I dream of seeing my husband... and of knowing what happened to him,” she said, as she joined others in posting messages in a square in Azaz.

The northern town, hard by the border with Turkey, was occupied by Turkish troops in 2016 to prevent it falling to US-backed Kurdish forces, which had taken swathes of northern Syria from the Islamic State group.

It has since been under the control of rebel groups supported by Ankara.

In 2013, a military defector known as “Caesar” smuggled more than 50,000 photographs out of Syria, many of them documenting the deaths of prisoners in detention centers or military hospitals.

The name went on to be used in the title of US legislation that provides for economic sanctions against Syria.

Despite efforts to open dialogue about the missing on both sides of the conflict, little progress has been made on establishing their fate.

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