Syria slow to free prisoners despite coronavirus risk in crowded jails – rights groups

A man sits near a coronavirus awareness billboard, during a lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Damascus, Syria, April 4, 2020. Picture taken April 4, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 April 2020

Syria slow to free prisoners despite coronavirus risk in crowded jails – rights groups

  • Only a few 100 among tens of thousands freed -activists
  • Syria’s jails, war-hit health system vulnerable to virus

AMMAN: Syria is dragging its feet on releasing prisoners under an amnesty declared by President Bashar Assad, raising fears of mass infections if the new coronavirus spreads through its overcrowded jails, rights groups said on Monday.
The Damascus government has confirmed only 19 cases of infection from the global pandemic, with two deaths. But with a health system ravaged by almost a decade of civil war, it is widely feared Syria will not be able to contain the coronavirus.
The United Nations envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, last week pointed to the risk of COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, racing through the country’s prisons and urged quick action to free prisoners.
An amnesty declared by Assad on March 22 expanded the range of crimes covered by an amnesty announced last September.
But human rights groups said only a few hundred people jailed for common crimes had been released so far in what they called a token gesture to deflect calls on Damascus to follow the lead of other states, including its close ally Iran, that have freed tens of thousands as the virus has swept the world.
“The Syrian regime seeks to circumvent the pressures it is facing from organizations and states that fear the spread of COVID-19 in the ranks of detainees,” Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), told Reuters.
He said none of those freed were civic activists or others among the tens of thousands of political prisoners detained since the outbreak of Syria’s conflict, which began with peaceful protests against Assad’s rule.

’SEVERE OVERCROWDING’
“In Syrian prisons and detention centers, COVID-19 could spread quickly due to poor sanitation, lack of access to clean water and severe overcrowding,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.
Syrian state media have not reported how many prisoners have been released of late. State judges have said the aim is to ease prisoner numbers. SNHR said those released had been convicted of crimes including smuggling and forgery.
SNHR said it documented 665 arbitrary arrests, 116 deaths under torture and 232 releases since the September amnesty.
UN investigators and Western human rights activists say the Syrian authorities have arrested and tortured tens of thousands of people since the conflict began in 2011.
A UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry said in a 2018 report the whereabouts of these detainees remains unknown and unacknowledged by the state. It said these civilians “have been disappeared” and many may no longer be alive.
The Assad government denies holding prisoners of conscience and torturing detainees to death in secret security prisons.
Syria’s prisons include facilities run by security agencies that authorities deny exist, where denial of medical care is part of a widespread policy of torture, according to Sara Kayyali, Syria specialist with Human Rights Watch (HRW).
She expressed particular fear for detainees in such jails. “I won’t impose any intent on the Syrian government, but imagine you have an infected prison population of people they already want to get rid of for expressing opposition to the government?“
Iran has temporarily freed about 85,000 people from jail, including political prisoners, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a judiciary spokesman said last month.
In North Africa, Tunisia has freed 1,420 prisoners and Morocco 5,654, citing efforts to stop the virus, while Algeria pardoned 5,037 but without explicitly linking its move to the pandemic.


Egyptian ministry of irrigation — torrent season begins

A general view of the High Dam in Aswan, Egypt February 19, 2020. (REUTERS
Updated 31 min 42 sec ago

Egyptian ministry of irrigation — torrent season begins

  • Preliminary indications of the flood showed that it is higher than average and that the incoming waters during August and September are so far higher than those of last year

CAIRO: Egypt’s flood season began in August and will continue for three months — and the torrent season is about to begin — Mohamed El-Sebaei, spokesman for the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, has confirmed.

The Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation continues to prepare for the torrent season and to deal with flooding, which has caused the levels of the Nile to rise significantly over the past few days.

El-Sebaei said the ministry is monitoring the quantities of water that reach Egypt and accumulate in front of the High Dam on a daily basis, pointing out that the Minister of Irrigation, Mohamed Abdel-Ati, has been in Aswan since yesterday to inspect the water facilities of the High Dam.

He said that the torrential season is about to start in the period between autumn and winter, and that the ministry is following up with all torrent, canal and drain networks to ensure that they are ready to receive any volume of water and to preserve private and public property.

The ministry is preparing to cope with the torrents and rains expected to occur during autumn and winter by preparing Lake Nasser, located behind the High Dam, which is one of the most important strategic points in containing the quantities of water coming from the Ethiopian plateau.

The Egyptian River Revenue Regulatory Committee, in its meeting headed by Abdel-Ati, reviewed the situation of the Nile flood, the procedures for monitoring, analyzing and evaluating its condition, and the quantities of water expected to arrive until the end of the current water year 2021-2022.

According to a statement by the Ministry of Irrigation, the rates of rain in the sources of the Nile is expected to start decreasing by the end of September.

Preliminary indications of the flood showed that it is higher than average and that the incoming waters during August and September are so far higher than those of last year. Is still too early to make a final judgment on the type and size of this year’s flood.

Eman El-Sayed, head of the planning sector and head of the forecast center at the Ministry of Irrigation, said the center works to calculate the rates of rain that fall on the upper Nile River countries until it reaches the country on a daily basis. She explained that the latest technology is used to take satellite images and download mathematical models to determine the amount of rain falling and when it will fall.

El-Sayed added that the ministry holds two meetings every week to discuss the developments of the flood season, which have been confirmed more than once to be very high — once during the meeting of the River Revenue Regulatory Committee and the other during the Leadership Committee meeting.

She pointed to the development of three scenarios to deal with a flood. If it comes at a power 10 percent stronger than expected, it will be water drainage as usual. If it comes 50 percent stronger than expected, the excess will be dealt with through drains and waterways and the Toshka spillway will open. If it is stronger than that, the country will declare a state of emergency, she said.