Middle East

Syria: Hama legal chief denies resignation was forced

A man purporting to be Adnan Bakkour speaks in a video statement (31 August 2011)
Image caption Mr Bakkour said "regime thugs" had tried to kidnap him but failed

A top Syrian legal official who resigned his post has said government claims that he did so under threat of violence were "utterly false".

Hama attorney-general Adnan Bakkour resigned on Wednesday in protest at crimes against humanity he said were being committed by government troops.

State media said he had been kidnapped and forced to lie at gunpoint.

In a second video, Mr Bakkour said he had been speaking freely, and that state soldiers had tried to seize him.

The Sana state news agency had quoted an official source as saying Mr Bakkour's statements were "lies about completely false practices," and that he had been forced to make them.

The official told Sana the story was "another dirty game by al-Jazeera" - referring to the Qatari-owned pan-Arab news channel.

The official news agencies then published an extensive report - quoting Mr Bakkour's driver - as saying he had been kidnapped from his car by a gang of seven armed men.

Mr Bakkour said this was "untrue and utterly false", and added: "The regime's thugs attempted to kidnap me today from Hama but they failed."

"I am under the protection of the rebels and the people," he said.

Officials accused

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones in Beirut says Mr Bakkour did not appear to be under duress in either video but yet to be seen publicly.

It is impossible to say for sure what has happened to him, says our correspondent, but the two stories are so contradictory that they cannot both be true.

In his statement, which was posted online on Wednesday, Mr Bakkour said he was resigning because of the "al-Assad regime and his gangs".

Mr Bakkour gave the reasons for his decision as:

  • The killing of 72 prisoners in Hama's central prison on 31 July 2011, including peaceful protesters and political activists
  • The burying of more than 420 victims in mass graves in public parks by security forces personnel and the pro-regime shabiha militia; he said he was told to report that the victims were killed by armed gangs
  • The arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters; he said there were approximately 10,000 prisoners in total
  • The torture of prisoners at branches of the security services; he said approximately 320 people had died under torture
  • The demolition by the army of homes with people still inside in his district of Hama, al-Hadima

Mr Bakkour said he would make available documents supporting his allegations later, but in the meantime would name "criminals" who he said had massacred unarmed protesters.

Image caption The UN says more than 2,200 people have been killed in the Syrian crackdown

They included the local heads of the interior ministry, police, military intelligence, air force intelligence, and the General Security Directorate. He also accused several named officers of torture.

The publication of the video came as troops backed by tanks raided houses in Hama searching for activists behind the protests calling for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, residents said.

On Tuesday, at least seven people were shot dead by security forces as thousands took part in impromptu demonstrations nationwide after prayers marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Activists said six were killed in the southern governorate of Deraa, including three in the town of al-Harra.

Later, human rights group Amnesty International published details of 88 people it believed had died in police detention. It based its report on accounts including videos of corpses with signs of beatings, burns, electric shocks and other abuse.

The UN has said more than 2,200 people have been killed since pro-democracy demonstrations began in mid-March. Syria's government has blamed "armed criminal gangs" for much of the unrest.

Access to Syria has been severely restricted for international journalists and it is rarely possible to verify accounts by witnesses and activists.

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