Scores of people, including possible prisoners of conscience, were arrested on political grounds during the year. Hundreds of political prisoners arrested in previous years, including prisoners of conscience, remained held; some of them were serving prison sentences and others were detained without charge or trial. At least three political prisoners continued to be held after their sentences expired. The health of long-term prisoners of conscience gave cause for concern. The fate and whereabouts of scores of prisoners who "disappeared" in previous years remained unknown. At least seven executions took place. Scores of people, including possible prisoners of conscience, were arrested during the year on suspicion of involvement in unauthorized political organizations or activities. Thirteen Syrian Kurds were arrested by the security forces in February and March, apparently after they celebrated the traditional Nawruz (Kurdish New Year Festival) in the province of Aleppo. They were reportedly still detained in al-Musalamiya prison in Aleppo at the end of the year. Hundreds of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, remained held. Some were detained without charge or trial; others were serving prison sentences, mainly imposed after unfair trials. Among them were at least 160 prisoners of conscience accused of having links with the Hizb al-‘Amal al-Shuyu‘i, Party for Communist Action (PCA). They included ‘Abbas ‘Abbas, arrested in January 1982 and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment in 1994, and Khadija Dib, arrested in 1992 and not known to have been brought to trial. About a dozen prisoners continued to serve sentences for alleged links with the al-Hizb al-Shuyu‘i al-Maktab al-Siyassi, Communist Party-Political Bureau (CPPB). Riad al-Turk, a leading member of the CPPB who was arrested in 1980, remained in incommunicado detention without charge or trial (see Amnesty International Report 1996). He received one visit from his family during the year, the third during his 16-year period of detention. About 29 prisoners of conscience detained in connection with the PCA, CPPB and the Ba‘th Party were reported to have been transferred to Tadmur military prison, where conditions are known to be particularly harsh, after refusing to sign a statement dissociating themselves from all past political activities. Among them were Mustafa al-Hussain, ‘Umar al-Hayek, Ratib Sha‘bu and Mazin Shamsin. Ten prisoners of conscience sentenced in March 1992 to between five and 10 years' imprisonment in connection with the unauthorized Committees for the Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria, remained held. They included Aktham Nu‘aysa, a lawyer, and Nizar Nayyuf, a sociologist (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 and 1996). Jalal al-Din Mustafa Mirhij, a former army officer who had been detained for more than 10 years beyond the expiry of his sentence, was released in January. Twenty-three prisoners of conscience who were held on suspicion of having links with the PCA were released during the year, most on completion of their prison terms. In previous years, long-term political detainees, including prisoners of conscience, were brought to trial before the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC), whose procedures fall far short of international fair trial standards (see previous Amnesty International Reports). Many were sentenced to prison terms, while dozens were acquitted or had the charges against them dropped. It was not known whether any such trials were conducted during 1996. Hundreds of political prisoners arrested on suspicion of having links with the unauthorized al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, Muslim Brotherhood (see Amnesty International Report 1996), remained held in various prisons. Most had been held in incommunicado detention since the late 1970s and early 1980s, and their whereabouts were unknown (see previous Amnesty International Reports). They included Baha al-Din Aswad, a secondary-school student from Aleppo who was arrested in 1979, and two of his brothers, Muhammad and Dia al-Din Aswad, who were arrested in 1981. Dozens of doctors and engineers remained held. They were among the many professionals who had been arrested in 1980 following a one-day general strike led by members of the Medical, Bar and Engineers associations (see previous Amnesty International Reports). Scores of Palestinians arrested on political grounds in previous years in Lebanon and Syria remained in detention (see previous Amnesty International Reports). Most were held incommunicado and their whereabouts remained unknown. About 21 Palestinians arrested in connection with Palestinian political movements and held since 1985 and 1987 were released during the year. At least 200 Lebanese nationals remained held in Syrian prisons. Most were arrested in Lebanon during the Lebanese civil war (1975 to 1990) and transferred to Syria, while others were arrested and taken to Syria after 1990. Most were believed to be detained without charge or trial and the whereabouts of many of them were unknown (see Lebanon entry). Sixteen Syrian Kurds arrested in previous years remained held in ‘Adra, Sadnaya and Far‘ Falastin. They included Muhammad Husayn Omri, a possible prisoner of conscience, who was arrested in May 1995 at Qmishli in northern Syria and was reportedly held without charge or trial. At least three political prisoners remained in detention despite having completed their prison sentences (which are calculated from the date of arrest). They included Khalil Brayez (see Amnesty International Report 1996), a former army officer and writer in his sixties held for 26 years – 11 years beyond the expiry of a 15-year sentence imposed in 1970. Most of the political detainees held for alleged links with the Hizb al-Ba‘th al-Dimuqrati al-Ishtiraki al-‘Arabi, Arab Socialist Democratic Ba‘th Party, were serving prison terms averaging 15 years imposed by the SSSC in 1994. They included ‘Ali Dib, who was arrested in 1982 and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment in 1994. Reports about the medical condition of long-term prisoners of conscience continued to give cause for concern. Of the 29 prisoners of conscience transferred to Tadmur prison, at least six were in ill health. Information came to light that Karim al-Hajj Hussain, a prisoner of conscience, had died one day after his release – four months after his sentence expired – in December 1995. He had suffered from tuberculosis and meningitis while in prison; it was not known whether he received adequate medical treatment. Karim al-Hajj Hussain was arrested in 1987 on suspicion of having links with the PCA and was held without charge or trial until 1994, when he was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. There were reports that a further 20 prisoners of conscience were in ill-health, and that eight of them were in urgent need of medical attention. They included Faraj Birqdar, a prisoner of conscience and a poet, who was arrested in 1987 and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment in 1993. Scores of political prisoners arrested in previous years remained unaccounted for and it was feared that they had "disappeared". They included Mustafa Abu Qaws, a university student, who was arrested in October 1983 at his home in Aleppo. His family saw him two weeks after his arrest, but his subsequent fate and whereabouts remained unknown. Two Sudanese asylum-seekers, Anthony Zakaria Laki and Samuel Lado Zakaria, were returned to Sudan in August after spending about two months in al-Yarmuk migration prison. They were allegedly ill-treated. They had been expelled from Hungary to Syria in June. No information was available about their fate after they were sent back to Sudan. At least seven people were executed by hanging in a public square in the town of Yabrud, north of Damascus, in March. The seven had reportedly been convicted of murder and robbery committed in February. Amnesty International continued to appeal for the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience and for all political prisoners to receive fair and prompt trials, or be released. The organization urged the authorities to initiate impartial investigations into torture allegations made in previous years and to end the use of the death penalty. It also urged the authorities to ensure that all asylum-seekers were given access to fair refugee procedures in accordance with international human rights standards. The government responded to some of Amnesty International's queries, but no measures were taken to address the organization's outstanding concerns. In April, Amnesty International submitted information about its concerns in Syria for UN review under a procedure established by Economic and Social Council Resolutions 728f/1503, for confidential consideration of communications about human rights violations.

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