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Syria: fears for prominent human rights lawyer abducted at weekend

A prominent Syrian human rights lawyer who went missing at the weekend after an apparent abduction is at grave risk of abuse, Amnesty International has said.  

Abdullah al-Khalil, who became head of the local council for al-Raqqa Governorate after armed opposition groups took control in March, was reportedly taken away by unidentified armed individuals as he left his office in the north-eastern city of al-Raqqa late on Saturday night.  

Sources close to al-Khalil say he and another man were taken away in two cars. Their whereabouts since are unknown. Local armed opposition groups have reportedly denied responsibility for the abduction.

Mr al-Khalil has been arrested by government forces five times during the last two years on account of his work as a lawyer defending political prisoners and promoting human rights. Amnesty had campaigned for his release last year.

He was reportedly tortured and otherwise ill-treated during at least one of the periods of detention, and he also received death threats and his family’s farm buildings were destroyed by order of the local authorities. He had fled to Turkey with his family in late 2012 after receiving further threats, before returning to al-Raqqa without them.

Tensions between various local armed opposition groups in al-Raqqa, some of which are also reported to have carried out serious abuses which may amount to war crimes, have been reported in recent weeks. In a video posted online on 14 May, three unidentified, blindfolded and handcuffed men are seen being shot dead by armed men in al-Raqqa. An armed man in the video said the killings were being carried out by an armed opposition group called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shaam, which he said was “in retaliation” for mass killings in Banias,  which he blamed on government forces.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Ann Harrison said:

“Whether the Syrian authorities or local armed groups are behind the incident, the two men are at grave risk of abuse.

“Whoever has information on their fate and whereabouts must inform the men's families.”

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