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Looking For Answers In Syria


Hundreds of people detained this week in Syria have been charged with degrading the prestige of the state, that according to a Syrian human rights group. And another group, Amnesty International, has documented cases of torture.

As we've just heard, it's very hard to get clear information out of Syria, but Wissam Tarif is trying to fill that void by compiling numbers of those killed and detained. He's executive director of the human rights and democracy group Insan, which was founded in Syria.

Mr. Tarif joins me from The Hague. Welcome to the program.

Mr. WISSAM TARIF (Executive Director, Insan): Thank you.

BLOCK: And given all the restrictions in Syria right now, the fact that phones, cell phones are down in many places, how do you get your numbers?

Mr. TARIF: Well, we started working in Syria since 2002. We have three researchers on the ground. They rely on a wide network of people all over the country. They are not necessarily human rights researchers, but they are activists.

Most of our information that we have collected came from different sources - the community leaders, imam, mosques, and most importantly, family members.

BLOCK: Based on that network of sources around Syria, what is the best number that you have been able to put together for the number of people who've been killed?

Mr. TARIF: Six hundred thirty-two people have been killed so far. Those are the numbers which we have been able to verify from family members.

BLOCK: Would you assume that there are many more who've been killed in Syria beyond those 632 whom you haven't been able to verify?

Mr. TARIF: Definitely. We have a long list of names from different parts in Syria, but we are very cautious to add numbers to a death toll. We are very cautious. We have to contact their family member at least.

BLOCK: How many have you been able to verify have been detained?

Mr. TARIF: We have verified 2,843 names of people who are detained, are literally detained in Syria. Nevertheless, we also have another list of 5,500 names, almost, of people that we received reports that they are detained. And we are working also to verify the number. But due to the communication problem - we are a small group after all; we don't have huge resources - so the number also will be much bigger.

BLOCK: I've read one account from a Syrian activist claiming that security forces are raiding makeshift morgues, snatching dozens of bodies. Have you also heard that from your sources around Syria?

Mr. TARIF: I have witnessed it myself in Duma when I was in Syria. Just three weeks ago, I was in Duma and they snatched corpses from the streets. Of course, they did that. Each time there are casualties, they try to kidnap the bodies. They try to take out the bodies from the streets because the day next, we have the funerals. And the funerals turn into demonstrations, and the cycle of shooting on peaceful protestors simply did not stop.

BLOCK: Are you also documenting cases of abuse and torture of those people who've been swept up?

Mr. TARIF: Yes. We have collected testimonies of people who were subjected to torture. In one of the Damascus suburbs areas today, they released in the afternoon 26 people. Later on, they released another 12. Those were subject to systematic torture. Many of the guys' nails were took out from their flesh by a pincers. They were beaten by sticks. They were gathered in group naked and beaten. Cold water was thrown upon them, of course, verbal insults, et cetera.

BLOCK: You're saying they were people whose fingernails had been pulled out with pliers?

Mr. TARIF: Yes, that is correct. And when they released those people, they were instructed, they were demanded to share their experience with the villagers, with the people who live in their village, because this is a systematic campaign, a strategy in which the regime has decided to build the wall of fear again in Syria.

BLOCK: Wissam Tarif, thanks for talking with us today.

Mr. TARIF: Thank you.

BLOCK: Wissam Tarif is executive director of the human rights group Insan, which is taken from the Arabic word for human. Tariff joined me from The Hague, where the International Criminal Court is located. He's lobbying for an investigation into Syria's actions, calling them crimes against humanity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.