In 2011, inspired by the “Arab Spring” spreading across the Middle East, mass civilian protests erupted in Syria calling for democratic reforms, economic opportunities, and an end to corruption. In response, the government of the Syrian Arab Republic, led by President Bashar al-Assad, developed a nationwide strategy to suppress protesters and perceived opponents to his authoritarian rule. Integral to the regime’s repressive strategy was the widespread and systematic detention, interrogation, and torture of Syrian civilians, a practice that continues to this day. More than 130,000 Syrians reportedly remain missing or arbitrarily detained — the vast majority of whom are either presumed dead or are detained without communication with family or legal representation.
In January 2022, CJA filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Syrian Arab Republic to hold it accountable for torture in its detention centers. Our client is a Syrian-American who was detained and tortured at the Air Force Intelligence Branch at the Mezzeh Military Airport in January 2012.
The Air Force Intelligence Directorate operates one of Syria’s most notorious detention facilities at the Mezzeh Military Airport near Damascus. Mezzeh operates in the shadow of the presidential palace and houses the presidential plane of Bashar al-Assad.
Countless Syrians have been detained and tortured in this prison, including human rights defenders and activists such as Mazen Darwish, Mansour al-Omari and Hussein Ghreir. Many others who were killed in Syria’s detention centers had also reportedly travelled through the Mezzeh system, including Layla Shweikani, Ayham Ghazzoul, Nabil Shurbaji, Hamzeh al-Khateeb and Tamer al Sharey.
The lawsuit was filed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a federal law that permits victims to sue designated state-sponsors of terrorism, like Syria, for the torture of U.S. nationals.
On February 8, 2023, the Assad government was served with the complaint. To date, it has yet to appear or respond.
Many Syrian-led organizations and advocates have long worked on accountability for detention-related abuses. CJA benefited immeasurably from their expertise and insight. Please see our Partners and Collaborators for more information about their work and how to support their campaigns, including by visiting www.freesyriasdisappeared.org.