We have been led to believe that since Bashar's accession to power, the Syrian intelligence services have become Mukhabarat lite. However, Joe Pace, in his recent Syria Comment post makes the point that this less brutal behavior applies only to known opposition figures who are in the public spotlight and whose case is championed by local and foreign human rights groups.
This has led me to wonder about what is known about the number of political prisoners lingering in Syrian jails unrecognized and unaccounted for. I searched the websites of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Syrian Committee for Human Rights and other Syrian rights organization with little success. The only information available are the names of the few who are released once in a while or the occasional names of people arrested but with no follow up about their outcome. You seem to only get a glimpse of the few who are freed, but how many are in? Is it in the hundreds? The thousands? When a few prisoners are released to great publicity about Bashar's benovelent reformist heart, it means nothing if these arbitrary harassments, detentions and imprisonments do not stop.
Apologists for the present regime want us to give Bashar a chance and do not bother themselves with such issues. They support a top down approach to change with emphasis on economic reform and reform aimed at rooting out corruption. That is fine but cannot come at the expense or to the exclusion of reform at the level of individual rights. Corruption, bribery and lack of accountability in the economic sector leads to the enrichment of the thieving ruling class and further impoverishment of the common citizen. However, corruption and lack of accountability in the judicial system leads to shattered lives from prolonged imprisonment, torture and sometimes death.
Respect of individual rights is not an idealistic abstraction that should wait its turn in the reform queue. It is the fundamental building block of a civil society. There is nothing like personal experience to drive the idea home. In the 1980s, as a young man minding my own business, I was picked up by the Mukhabarat in the departure lounge of Beirut airport. I spent the day in the dank basement of their headquarters at Ramlet el Baida along with about 20 other people seeing my future melt away in front of my eyes. Fortunately, an acquaintance who saw me being arrested alerted friends who in turn secured the proper Wasta to get me out. My release was just as arbitrary and capricious as my arrest. My fate did not depend on my innocence or guilt but on the chance occurrence that someone actually witnessed the event and had the proper "connections". This is how cheap and insignificant the life of an individual citizen is. I was extremely lucky but I know that there are many citizens now wasting away in prisons unrecognized and unaccounted for.
I want to know what their names are, what they are accused of and what their sentences are. To me their lives are as important as those of Anwar Bunni and Riad Seif.
Below are links to human Syrian human rights organizations:
Syrian Human Rights Committee
Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies
Syria National Council
Arab Organization for Human Rights-Syria