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Syria: Independent investigation into protest deaths needed

Amnesty International has called on the Syrian authorities to launch an independent investigation into the deaths of at least six anti-government protesters during continuing unrest in Syria’s southern city of Dera'a.

Four men died after security forces opened fire on demonstrators on Friday. Another man was shot dead on Sunday and a sixth person, said to be a youth aged 12 or 13, died yesterday after inhaling tear gas on Sunday. Scores more have been injured by bullets and tear gas and many more have been detained.

Like protests elsewhere in the region, protesters are calling for more political freedoms, an end to corruption and in Dera'a, the release of more than 30 Children's rights, many aged about 10 years old, detained for several weeks for having written "the people want the fall of the regime" on a wall.

The four men who died following demonstrations on Friday are Adnan Akrad, Wissam Ayyash, Ayham al-Hariri and Mahmoud al-Jawabreh. The young person who died yesterday has been named as Mu'min Munzer al-Masalmeh.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Philip Luther said:

"These deaths must be investigated promptly and thoroughly and those responsible for unlawful killings brought to justice.

"The use of lethal force by the Syrian security forces against protesters who, by all accounts, were not putting others' lives at risk is totally unacceptable. People must be allowed to assemble and protest peacefully."

Security forces fired tear gas at thousands of people in Dera'a on Monday, during the funeral of the fifth protester to be killed, Ra'id al-Karad. Protests also spread to the nearby town of Jassem. The protests appear to have been largely peaceful although at least two government buildings were set alight on Friday after the first killings.

On Saturday the Syrian state-run news agency SANA said that the Ministry of Interior had set up a committee to investigate the violence.

Philip Luther said:

"While we haven't seen any details published about the committee, the fact that it appears to be reporting to the very ministry whose forces are alleged to be responsible for the deaths suggests that the independence of their work is likely to be seriously in question.

"An independent and impartial investigation is essential if the truth is to be uncovered."

The Syrian authorities have a poor record of investigating killings by security forces. Even when investigations have been announced, few, if any, details have been made public about their nature, scope or conclusions.

In July 2008, SANA announced that an investigation was to be carried out into violent disturbances that month in Saydnaya Military Prison during which at least 52 prisoners were reported to have gone missing. Despite repeated requests for information by Amnesty, the Syrian authorities have not publicly disclosed any details about an investigation or whether it has led to anyone being found responsible for abuses and brought to justice.

The security forces killed at least 36 people, mostly Kurds, during violent disturbances in the north-east of the country in March 2004. No investigation is known to have been carried out.

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