Middle East

International Red Cross visits Syrian prison

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionCarla Haddad Mardini, ICRC: ''We hope we will be able to continue visiting these places''

The International Red Cross (ICRC) has been allowed to visit a Syrian prison for the first time since concerns emerged over the treatment of inmates.

The ICRC said it had visited Damascus central prison in Adra suburb on Sunday.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said he also held talks with President Bashar al-Assad on Monday.

Amnesty International said last week it believed at least 88 Syrian detainees had died in the past five months.

"The Syrian authorities have granted the ICRC access to a place of detention for the first time," said Mr Kellenberger at the end of a two-day visit to Damascus.

"Initially, we will have access to persons detained by the ministry of the interior and we are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees."

During his talks with President Assad, Mr Kellenberger said he had discussed "the rules governing the use of force by security forces in the current situation and the obligation to respect the physical and psychological well-being and human dignity of detainees".

Access request

The ICRC has been asking for access to detainees for several months, says the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva where the ICRC issued its statement.

In June Mr Kellenberger visited Syria, but only now after a second visit has access been granted and so far only to one prison, our correspondent says.

Nevertheless, the ICRC says this is a step forward. Red Cross delegates will be able to assess the condition of detainees, to request improvements from the Syrian authorities and to give the families of detainees news of them.

The ICRC says it generally never makes publicly available details of what it finds in the prisons it inspects as it believes that to do so would limit future access.

It works instead directly with detaining authorities, governments and officials to try to improve the treatment of detainees and the conditions of prisoners, it told the BBC.

Detention deaths

In its report last week, Amnesty said that those who died in detention - including 10 children - had been subjected to beatings, burns, electric shocks and other abuse.

All of those who died were thought to have been arrested after taking part in anti-government protests, said the group.

Thousands have been detained since the anti-government protests started in March this year.

Access to Syria has been severely restricted for international journalists and it is rarely possible to verify accounts by witnesses and activists.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites