Syria rejects 'totally untrue' Amnesty report of mass hangings in prison
Syria's justice ministry has rejected an Amnesty International report of mass hangings of as many as 13,000 people in a prison near Damascus, calling the allegations "totally untrue" and part of a smear campaign.
The ministry's statement was published by Syria's state-run news agency on Wednesday, a day after Amnesty released its report about Saydnaya Prison.
The ministry said "misleading and inciting" media outlets carried the Amnesty report to smear the Syrian government's reputation on the world stage, particularly after recent "military victories against terrorists groups".
The government refers to all armed opposition as "terrorists".
It said the allegations are "baseless" because executions in Syria follow due process and various stages of litigation.
Amnesty's report said the mostly civilian victims, at a jail known to detainees as "the slaughterhouse", were hanged after military trials that lasted minutes.
The report, covering the period from 2011 to 2015, said 20-50 people were hanged each week at Saydnaya Prison, authorised by senior Syrian officials, including deputies of President Bashar Assad, and carried out by military police.
The report referred to the killings as a "calculated campaign of extrajudicial execution".
Amnesty has recorded at least 35 different methods of torture in Syria since the late 1980s, practices that have increased since 2011, said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for research at Amnesty's regional office in Beirut.
Other human rights groups have found evidence of massive torture leading to death in Syrian detention facilities.
In a report last year, Amnesty found that more than 17,000 people had died of torture and ill-treatment in custody across Syria since 2011, an average of more than 300 a month.
The figures are comparable to battlefield deaths in Aleppo, one of the fiercest war zones in Syria, where 21,000 have been killed across the province since 2011.
While the most recent data is from 2015, Ms Maalouf said there was no reason to believe the practice has stopped, with thousands more probably killed.
"These executions take place after a sham trial that lasts over a minute or two minutes, but they are authorised by the highest levels of authority", including the grand mufti, a senior religious authority in Syria, and the defence minister, she said.
The chilling accounts in the Amnesty report came from interviews with 31 former detainees and more than 50 other officials and experts, including former guards and judges.
According to the findings, detainees were told they would be transferred to civilian detention centres but were taken to another building in the facility and hanged.