Assad Terrorizes the Syrian people: Uses Soccer Stadiums as Prison (CNN)

By the CNN Wire Staff
May 9, 2011 — Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
  Syrian security forces were using soccer stadiums as makeshift prisons in at least two cities Monday after raiding homes and arresting hundreds of residents, the directors of two human rights organizations said.

In addition, security forces burst into homes and took residents into custody in the Damascus suburb of Modemiyah, where there were reports of gunfire Monday, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, state media reported that 10 people were killed and three were wounded Sunday when gunmen attacked a bus in Homs, a province where clashes broke out between security forces and protesters over the weekend. The state-run Syrian news agency called the attackers an “armed terrorist group.”

More than 400 people have been arrested in Banias since Saturday, Abdul-Rahman said, adding that authorities had converted the Mediterranean city’s soccer stadium into a prison to house them.

In the southern city of Daraa, the hub of Syria’s six-week uprising, another human rights organization observed a similar situation.

“In Daraa, there have been so many arbitrary arrests in recent days that the army and security forces are using schools and the city’s soccer stadium as makeshift prison facilities,” said Ammar Qurabi, chairman of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.

CNN could not independently confirm the reports. The heads of both organizations are not in Syria but remain in close contact with activists and protesters there.

The state-run Syrian news agency said Sunday that security forces were continuing pursuit of “members of the terrorist groups” in both cities.

”A number of wanted terrorist members were arrested and weapons and ammunition used by these groups in attacks against the army and citizens and in terrorizing people were seized,” the news agency reported.

Human rights organizations criticized the arrests and violence, calling on Syria’s government to establish an independent commission to investigate.

We condemn the continued use of the Syrian authorities of violence and excessive force against the citizens of Syria demonstrating peacefully,” a statement from six organizations posted on the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria’s website Monday.

The statement also expressed “deep concern” for those arrested.

     “We call on security forces to stop the arbitrary arrests that take place outside the law and which constitute a flagrant violation of fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Syrian Constitution of 1973,” the statement said.

The latest wave of arrests started as Syrian tanks and troops stormed a village near Banias on Saturday, killing at least four women and injuring several    others, witnesses said.

Residents of Marquab formed a human chain to thwart the military, but soldiers raided homes and opened fire, said witnesses who were not identified for    security reasons.

Witnesses said the army then rolled into Banias. They reported heavy gunfire and severe damage to the city.

CNN has not been granted access into Syria and is unable to independently verify witness accounts.

But CNN has spoken with witnesses, some of whom have posted homemade videos online and reported what they have seen via social networking sites. Human rights organizations have also compiled reports.

Demonstrations against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime have broken out across the country over the past six weeks.

Protesters have demanded the immediate release of political prisoners, lifting of emergency and martial law, and withdrawal of intelligence forces from Syrian cities.

Last month, al-Assad lifted the country’s 48-year-old state of emergency and abolished the state security court, both of which were key demands of the demonstrators. But anti-government protests have continued, with activists alleging massive human rights abuses and calling for political and economic reforms.

Security forces have relied heavily on the army and the regime’s guard to disperse demonstrations.

Amnesty International said Friday that more than 540 people have been killed by Syrian security forces and that many activists in pro-reform protests “have been forced into hiding after receiving threats from Syrian authorities.”

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CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.

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