Syrian activists said Thursday a prominent rights lawyer believed to be in government custody for more than eight months is suffering from deteriorating health and called for his immediate release.
The lawyer, Khalil Maatouk, was abducted while driving to his Damascus office in October and hasn’t been heard from since. The 54-year-old is one of thousands of Syrians who have disappeared since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began more than two years ago, and many of them are believed to be held in government detention centers.
Amnesty International estimates that tens of thousands of Syrians are being held incommunicado by the Assad regime but does not have exact figures. The Syrian government denies such cases exist, and says all arrests are carried out legally.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Maatouk, who is known to have lung disease, is being held in an underground Syrian intelligence detention facility. The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground in Syria to gather information, said Maatouk’s health is deteriorating and called on the United Nations high commissioner for Human rights to help secure his release.
Maatouk tracked and reported on the detention of activists before the anti-Assad uprising began, and continued his work after the revolt broke out in March 2011.
Soon after Maatouk disappeared, a friend of the attorney and lawyer Anwar al-Bunni told the New-York based Human Rights Watch that Maatouk had been traveling down a road loaded with government checkpoints, making it unlikely that non-state actors kidnapped him. Al-Bunni also said that Maatouk had been summoned for interrogation a number of times before his abduction because of his work representing detained activists and his frequent travels.
Maatouk was one of the lawyers following the detention case of another prominent activist, MazenDarwish, and his colleagues.