Turkey, Life, Middle East

NGO demands release of imprisoned Syria women, children

At Istanbul conference, recently-founded Conscience Movement laments plight of women, children jailed by Assad regime

20.02.2019
NGO demands release of imprisoned Syria women, children

By Meryem Goktas

ISTANBUL

The Conscience Movement, an international NGO, has called on the global community to take urgent action to secure the release of women and children languishing in Syrian prisons.

On Wednesday, the NGO held a conference in Istanbul that drew participants from 45 countries, including Syria, Britain, South Africa, Ecuador, Qatar, Kenya, Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Greece, Pakistan, Congo and Malaysia.

The event is aimed at raising awareness about the continued suffering faced by women and children still being held in the prisons of Syria’s Assad regime.

Speaking at the event, movement spokesman Yavuz Dede said the NGO would continue its activities around the world until International Women’s Day on March 8 -- and beyond -- to draw global attention to the issue.

An opening statement was read out on behalf of the initiative -- in Turkish, English and Arabic -- by Gulden Sonmez, a lawyer, rights advocate and movement representative; British journalist Colin Stevens; and Kuwaiti rights activist Aisha al-Qassar.

According to the statement, more than 13,500 Syrian women have been jailed since the conflict began in March 2011, while more than 7,000 women still remain in detention, where they are subject to torture, rape and sexual violence.

"The Conscience Movement calls for the unconditional, immediate release of Syrian women and children from [Syrian regime] prisons without being part of any bargaining," Sonmez said.

She also urged international institutions like the UN and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation -- along with leaders of countries such as Turkey and Russia -- “to make efforts in this regard”.

"We invite all those around the world with a conscience to raise their voice right now until the last Syrian woman and child is released," she declared.

Majid Chorbaci, a Syrian woman jailed by the regime and later released in a prisoner-swap, also spoke at Wednesday’s conference, where she recalled the abuses she suffered while in detention.

“I was exposed to horrendous torture; electric shock and beating. They threatened me with rape and removed my hijab,” she said, going on to demand the “immediate release” of all women and children still exposed to “such horrendous torture”.

Nermina Lakota, a representative of the Mothers of Srebrenica (which represents survivors of the Siege of Srebrenica in the mid-1990s), urged Syrian women to “be brave”, saying the Mothers “stand with them”.

Other participants to speak at the conference -- and pledge their support -- included Baroness Pola Uddin, a member of Britain’s House of Lords; Zwelivelile Mandlesizwe Dalibhunga Mandela, chief of South Africa’s Mvezo Clan Traditional Council (and grandson of Nelson Mandela); Ukrainian MP Olga Bogomolets; Monazza Hassan, a Pakistani MP and diplomat; and Yusuf Abdulrahman Nzibo, chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.

The Conscience Movement is assisted by more than 2,000 NGOs from around the world and thousands of supporters in 110 countries.

Convoy

The Conscience Movement is an international initiative established last year after an all-woman international convoy made global headlines by raising awareness of the abuses suffered by women jailed by the Assad regime.

In March of last year, the 55-bus convoy made a three-day journey from Istanbul to Turkey’s southern Hatay province near the Syrian border, where 10,000 women staged a massive rally marking International Women's Day.

Participants came from over 50 countries, including Syria, Ukraine, Chile, Palestine, Iraq, Britain, Brazil, Malaysia, Pakistan, Kuwait and Qatar.

The convoy included women from all walks of life: civil society representatives, lawyers, academics, artists, athletes and housewives.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.

According to UN figures, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed or displaced in the conflict, mainly by regime airstrikes in opposition-held areas.

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