AMMAN: Hundreds of prisoners are in control of the Hama Central Prison, holding several guards captive for a second day on Tuesday despite a failed overnight raid by regime security to regain control of the facility.
Prisoners seized control of the prison on Monday following “a decision to move five political prisoners to the Sednaya military prison [outside Damascus] to be executed,” Zaher al-Hamawi, a former prisoner currently in contact with those inside told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “They refused and decided to collectively resist the order and were able to take control of the prison.”
Fires in the Hama Central Prison after regime forces attempted to regain control from rioting prisoners Monday night. Photo courtesy of Hama News Agency.
The Hama Central Prison is the largest in the mostly regime-controlled western province. The facility holds prisoners from at least four regime security branches. It sits on the eastern edge of the provincial capital.
The prisoners are demanding that the Red Crescent “move the condemned prisoners to opposition-held areas and prevent their execution,” Hassan al-Omri, a member of the Hama Press Center in contact with a prisoner inside told Syria Direct on Tuesday.
Images and videos of the riot and an unsuccessful overnight attempt by regime forces to retake the prison have been posted online since Monday. Mobile phones are prohibited in the prison but some detainees have smuggled them in.
“I talked to my son in the prison via WhatsApp on Monday, but we haven’t been able to get through today,” Nizar al-Hamawi, the father of one of the prisoners told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “He told us the situation inside is miserable, and that regime forces had cut off water and electricity.”
“Hama Central Prison rebellion,” reads a sign held by two prisoners after taking control of the facility on Monday. Photo courtesy of Hama News Agency.
“The treatment of the prisoners there is horrible, and most of them are there because of arbitrary arrests,” al-Hamawi told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “Some, like my son, haven’t had a trial.”
During Monday night’s raid, regime security forces fired “tear gas, which led to some cases of suffocation, and there were live bullets,” al-Omri said.
An unnamed source with the Syrian Ministry of Interior, which administers the Hama Central Prison, told state media agency SANA on Monday that there was “no truth” to reports of “chaos” inside the facility.
One Hama activist, who requested anonymity, told Syria Direct on Tuesday of “direct negotiations between regime forces and the prisoners,” but the prisoners remain in control as of publication. Video posted online by Lebanese Elnashra News also reportedly shows negotiations occurring on Tuesday.
The Hama Central Prison has held a large number of political detainees since the Syrian uprising began in 2011. Around 60 percent of the facility’s 1,400 inmates are political prisoners, the same Hama activist told Syria Direct.
Last June, hundreds of inmates staged a mass protest against the prison administration in response to what they described as torture and poor overall conditions inside, leading the head of the facility to be replaced. Prisoners also rioted two months later citing similar concerns.