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Introduction Syria may well be the country with the highest number of scientists detained for political reasons in the world. Prior to amnesties in 1991 and 1992, the Committee on Human Rights (CHR) compiled a list of 287 scientists, engineers, and health professionals believed to be detained or imprisoned on political grounds. The amnesties freed more than 3,500 political detainees, but the Syrian government has refused to publish a list of those who have been released. The CHR has been able to confirm that 49 of its 287 cases are among those released, but the status of the remaining 238 cases is still unknown although it is believed that a considerable num- ber remain incarcerated. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, scientists, engineers, and health pro- fessionals in Syria were in the forefront of efforts to seek human rights reform and greater political liberalization. Following protests by the engi- neering, medical, and bar associations against a prolonged "state of emer- gency," the widespread practice of arbitrary arrest, and other serious viola- tions of human rights, the Syrian authorities detained many of the scientific colleagues whose names appear on our lists. They also dissolved the engi- neers', medical, and pharmacists' associations and recreated them under strict government and Ba'ath Party control. Other scientific colleagues whose names appear on our lists have been detained in more recent years for their alleged association with prohibited political parties (e.g., the Com- munist Party Political Bureau and the Party for Communist Action, both
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2 SCIENTISTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN SYRIA offshoots of the legal Communist Party; the Arab Socialist Unity Party, a Nasserist political group; and the Arab Socialist Democratic Ba'ath Party). Still others have been detained for acts of political opposition or attempts to form human rights organizations. The CHR believes that the prolonged incarceration of large numbers of professionals and the repression of their associations shows that the Syrian government gives greater priority to political control than to needed eco- nomic development. During the 1980s, the Syrian economy suffered a lack of trained professionals that was unquestionably exacerbated by the deten- tion of such large numbers of scientific personnel (Collello, 1988:114).1 Syria also experienced a period of economic stagnation described as the "lost decade for development" (Perthes, 1992:37,57-8). Political repression reportedly contributed to this stagnation and the decline in living standards that most Syrians experienced. As one human rights organization com- mented, Syria's prisons contain "a who's who of the nation's professional elite, including hundreds of engineers, doctors and university professors" (Middle East Watch, 1992c:7). The first part of this report provides information about detained col- leagues, recent releases, and new arrests. The second part gives a former prisoner's eyewitness account of the arrest and detention in 1980 of a group of 21 engineers and lawyers who were then held for nearly 12 years because of their participation in the human rights activities of the engineers' and bar associations. The third part discusses current controls over the professional associations and prospects for liberalization. The final part presents the committee's conclusions. The appendices detail information on CHR cases in Syria. Appendix B contains the names of 137 scientists, engineers, and health professionals reported to be detained or imprisoned in Syria: 76 engineers, 55 health professionals, and 6 in other scientific fields. These cases came to our attention from a variety of sources; we believe the names and information about the cases to be reliable. Appendix C contains the names of 55 engi- neers and 46 health professionals reported to be in detention, but we cannot fully verify all information about their cases. Appendix D contains the names of a number of engineers and health professionals reported to have died in detention, to have been killed or executed, or to have disappeared while in detention. Appendix E contains the names of the 49 scientists, engineers, and health professionals recently released from detention. The CHR faced considerable difficulty in compiling and verifying these names, 1 For complete bibliographic information on the citations, see "References and Bibliogra- phy."
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SCIENTISTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN SYRIA 3 given their large numbers and the refusal of the Syrian government to pro- vide information. Although, to the best of our knowledge, all of the people on the lists have been detained or imprisoned for political reasons and have not used or advocated violence, it has not always been possible to confirm that every person listed can be considered a prisoner of conscience.