WASHINGTON, D.C. (CN) – Seven Syrian citizens sued the Syrian government, saying they and their family members have been tortured, arrested and imprisoned without trial and killed by the Syrian government since 2001. Syria, a key U.S. ally, has the world’s worst human rights record, according to a 2010 report by the U.S. Department of State.
The plaintiffs, who live outside of Syria, sued the Syrian Arab Republic in Federal Court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act, and say they expect to add more plaintiffs.
They claim taking any legal action in Syria would be futile because it is a “virtual police state, and any person who tried to initiate legal processes against Syrian security forces would be imprisoned and tortured.”
Plaintiff Hala Abdul Aziz says she learned of the death of her father, Abdul Gafar Abdul Aziz, through a video posted online.
Abdul Aziz, 50, was killed by snipers on April 22 after “mourners gathered to give a speech about the murders committed by the Syrian security forces during the past month,” his daughter says.
Plaintiff John Doe No. 1 says his brother was also shot to death at a peaceful demonstration after a funeral at a mosque on April 17.
Plaintiff Sirwan Kajjo says she attended a soccer game in Qamchilei where security forces killed three children on March 12, 2004. The next day, during the children’s funeral, security forces killed 34 people who were protesting the Syrian security forces’ killings of the day before, Kajjo says.
Plaintiff Mohammad Al Abdullah says he was imprisoned in Damascus from March to October 2006. He says he was “interrogated for three hours, during which time he was slapped and punched several times and forced to stand blindfolded and handcuffed throughout the entire interrogation.”
The interrogator threatened to whip him and torture him, and prison guards made his cellmate jog until he was unable to walk, and Abdullah “had to carry him to the toilet for the next three days,” according to the complaint.
Plaintiff Abed Al-Hendi says he too was imprisoned in Damascus for criticizing the government online. In prison, he says, he was “routinely beaten and tortured by the guards, which included hitting his face and body with sticks and kicking him.”
John Doe No. 2, a philosophy teacher and human rights advocate, says was repeatedly imprisoned from 1981 to 1998 and from 2003 to 2007, “locked in a one cubic meter dark, airless cell in a humid underground area.”
The plaintiffs say that since co-defendant Ashef Shawkat has led Syria’s Ministry of State Security Intelligence, he “had effective control over his subordinates, knew or should have known about his subordinates’ illegal activities, and did not take action to prevent those illegal activities.”
They add that defendant Bashar al-Jafari, Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations, has falsely “denied the existence of any human rights violations in Syria” to the United Nations.
They say Syria and nine individual, named defendants “have been responsible for any and all killings that have occurred because they are responsible for the murder of Syrian citizens who have decided to protest the conditions in Syria.”
They seek damages for wrongful death, torture, and false imprisonment, among other claims.
They are represented by Martin McMahon.