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Protesters hit Syrian streets as report describes torture

(CNN) — Thousands of demonstrators in Syrian cities hit the streets after Friday prayers in another week of anti-government rallies as a prominent humanitarian watchdog group issued a report detailing “torture and ill-treatment” of protesters over the last month.

Three eyewitnesses told CNN reported demonstrations in Daraa, Baniyas, Dair Elzour, Douma, Zabadani and the outskirts of Damascus against the Bashar al-Assad regime, urged by protesters to enact political, economic, and social changes.

Human Rights Watch on Friday issued a report entitled “Syria: Rampant Torture of Protesters,” a document detailing arbitrary detention, as well as mistreatment in prison.

“There can be no real reforms in Syria while security forces abuse people with impunity,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “President al-Assad needs to rein in his security services and hold them to account for arbitrary arrests and torture.”

Human Rights Watch collected information about the mistreatment from interviews with 19 people who had been detained in Daraa, Damascus, Douma, al-Tal, Homs, and Baniyas, and the families of detainees.

The group also gathered information from Syrian activists about dozens of people detained in Daraa and Baniyas, and watched footage of some detainees released from Daraa, “whose bodies appeared to have marks from torture.”

Detainees arrested during the protests told Human Rights Watch that officers from the intelligence services, or the Mukhabarat, beat them during arrests and in detention. They saw beatings of dozens of detainees, including children, and “heard screams of people being beaten.”

Many in prisons experienced torture from electro-shock devices, cables, and whips, witnesses said. Many stayed in overcrowded cells and “deprived of sleep, food, and water.” Detainees were blindfolded and handcuffed, some said.

Detainees had been made to “sign confessions without being allowed to read them, as well as pledges not to participate in future protests” and “none were allowed to have any contact with relatives or lawyers while in detention, and their families were not informed of their whereabouts,” the report said.

Security and intelligence officers also seized lawyers, activists, and journalists who backed the protests, Human Rights Watch said.

Most detainees had been freed in days without charges and others were released on bail with charges pending.

There was no immediate response to the report from the Syrian government.

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