Protesters in Syria's Idlib demand regime release detainees

Maaret al-Numan (Syria) (AFP) –


Syrians in the country's last major rebel stronghold of Idlib protested on Friday to demand the Damascus regime release detainees from its jails, an AFP correspondent said.

Thousands have protested each week since the start of the month in the opposition stronghold on the Turkish border, where a Turkey-Russia deal last week averted a regime military offensive.

Hundreds of people streamed into the streets of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province after Friday's midday prayer, chanting against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Some waved the three-star flag of the seven-year uprising, while others brandished the red standard of rebel backer Turkey.

"Our freedom will not be complete until detainees are freed from the jails of the Assad regime," organiser Ezzedine al-Idlibi said.

Among the crowd, Abu Hassan carried the daughter of his detained brother on his shoulders.

Wearing a blue dress, she held up a portrait of the father she had not seen in five years.

"We came out to this peaceful protest to ask that the detainees be released from the jails and security service basements," Abu Hassan said.

Tens of thousands of people are estimated to be held in government jails across Syria, with relatives and advocates saying they are often tortured, denied fair trial, and deprived contact with families.

Women clad in black demanded that those detained be released from "hell behind bars". One of them said she took part in the protest to demand the release of her son, a father-of-three.

"My son was arrested a year ago and we haven't heard anything since," she said.

In the rebel-held town of Atareb in neighbouring Aleppo province, water was blasted onto hundreds of protesters to cool them off, another AFP stringer at the scene said.

Female protester Maysa Mahmud said people had streamed in from all over the west of Aleppo province to demonstrate.

"We call on the international community to pressure the regime to release" the prisoners, she said.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates 80,000 Syrians remain forcibly disappeared by the government.

Family members can spend years shuttling between security services to find out where their loved ones are, or even if they are still alive.

In recent months, activists and families of imprisoned Syrians say authorities have quietly updated civil records to mark detainees as "deceased".

Syria's war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.