Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
What next on Iran’s nuclear deal: follow the news here

Protesters rally around the 'flower of Syria'

Teenage girl - who had been beheaded - had been arrested to put pressure on her activist brother, who also died in custody.

BEIRUT // A young woman was found beheaded and mutilated in Syria, underscoring what witnesses and the United Nations human-rights office said was a fearsome new government tactic of retaliating against protesters' families.

Zainab Al Hosni, 18, is believed to be the first woman to die in custody since the uprising began in mid-March.

Amnesty International said on Friday she had reportedly been detained by Syrian security agents to pressure her activist brother to turn himself in.

Her parents found her body by chance in the same morgue as that of her brother, after they had been summoned to identify his corpse.

The violence serves as a grim reminder of how the Al Assad family has kept an iron grip on power in Syria for more than 40 years by brutally crushing every sign of dissent.

The idea that the regime has eyes and ears everywhere resonates in a nation of 22 million, where decades of autocratic rule have nurtured a culture of deep fear and paranoia.

Witnesses and activists have said retaliation against the families of those involved in the uprising has ranged from threatening phone calls to beatings and even killings, as in the case of Al Hosni.

The UN human-rights office said on Friday that the harassment was extending beyond Syria's borders.

"Prominent human-rights defenders, inside and outside the country, are reported to have been targeted," the spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva.

"We are also concerned by reports of the targeting and attacking of families and sympathisers of the protesters by security forces."

The Syrian opposition movement has proved remarkably resilient despite a massive military assault against them.

According to UN estimates, more than 2,700 civilians have been killed in the crackdown since March and thousands more have been detained.

Al Hosni was from the central city of Homs, one of the hotbeds of the protest movement. She was seized by men in plain clothes on July 27, apparently to pressure her brother Mohammed, who was organising protests in the city, Amnesty said.

After her arrest, he was told by telephone that she would be released only if he stopped his activities, the New York-based group said.

Her brother was eventually arrested this month. On September 13, his mother was summoned by security forces to pick up his body, which showed bruises, burns and gunshots, the group said.

At the same morgue, the mother happened to find her daughter's body as well.

The family said Zainab had been decapitated, her arms cut off, and skin removed, according to Amnesty.

After Zainab's burial last weekend, women held a protest in Homs, hailing her as the "flower of Syria" and chanting "Syria wants freedom" ", according to video footage posted on the internet by local activists.

"They plucked the flower, and she said, 'After me, a bud will rise up.' Rejoice in eternal paradise, Zainab," read a sign held by one of the women.

The deaths of Zainab and her brother bring to 103 the number of people who have been reported killed in Syrian custody since the uprising began, Amnesty said.

"If it is confirmed that Zainab was in custody when she died, this would be one of the most disturbing cases of a death in detention we have seen so far," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

* Associated Press

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National