Brussels: A human rights group said it believed that at least 88 people, ten of them children, have died in detention in Syria during five months of anti-government protests - a dramatic increase that coincides with the government`s bloody crackdown.
Some of the victims were as young as 13, Amnesty International said on Tuesday. It said that in recent years the annual number of deaths behind Syrian bars has been about five.
"These deaths behind bars are reaching massive proportions, and appear to be an extension of the same brutal disdain for life that we are seeing daily on the streets of Syria," said Neil Sammonds, Amnesty International`s researcher on Syria.
Sammonds also said the group had heard accounts of horrific torture. "We believe the Syrian government to be systematically persecuting its own people on a vast scale," he said.
The victims, all men or boys, were arrested after mass protests began in March. All the victims are believed to have been detained because they were suspected of being involved in the protests, Amnesty said in a report.
In at least 52 of the cases there was evidence that torture or ill-treatment caused or contributed to the deaths, the report said.
The group said it had seen video clips relating to 45 of the cases, and had asked independent forensic pathologists to review a number of them. It said injuries on many of the bodies indicate the victims may have suffered beatings, burns, whippings, slashings and stabbings.
The report cited the case of Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old who disappeared April 29 during protests against the siege of Dera`a, and was later found dead with apparent blunt force injuries and a severed penis. Most of the cases in the report occurred in the Homs and Dera`a governorates, which have seen major protests.
Deaths in detention have also been reported in five other governorates - Damascus and Rif Damashq, Idlib, Hama and Aleppo, Amnesty said.