Page last updated at 13:13 GMT, Sunday, 6 July 2008 14:13 UK

Syria blames inmates in jail riot

Map showing Syria

Syria's government has blamed prisoners serving sentences for extremism and terror for clashes with jail guards that left several inmates dead.

Prisoners say the unrest began early on Saturday when guards began beating the mainly Islamist inmates in their cells.

The government has denied this, saying the guards intervened to stop violence begun by inmates during an inspection.

It remains unclear how many detainees were killed and injured in the unrest. A human rights group said 25 were dead.

The Islamist prisoners were also reported to have taken a large number of other inmates hostage but it is not clear whether they have been released.

Several prisoners managed to contact Syrian human-rights groups, as well as the BBC, by telephone from inside Saydnaya Prison, near Damascus, as the unrest was going on.

'Restore calm'

Syria's state news agency, Sana, issued a statement from the authorities saying security forces had been forced to act to restore order after violence by inmates.

"Prisoners sentenced for crimes of terrorism and extremism caused trouble... They attacked their comrades during a prison inspection," the agency said.

"A security force unit immediately took action to remedy the situation and restore calm in the prison."

The agency did not comment on the number of casualties. It said measures would be taken against those responsible for starting the trouble.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that at least 25 prisoners had been killed and others hurt when security forces fired live bullets to quell the unrest.

The London-based group quoted a political prisoner as saying that the riot had been started by Islamist inmates after aggressive raids on their cells by the guards.

The prisoners said the early-morning raids were in response to a protest by detainees several weeks ago about conditions at the jail, which houses chiefly Islamist and political prisoners.

One inmate told the BBC the guards had roughly treated the prisoners during the raids and had desecrated the Koran.

"They shackled our hands behind us, confiscated our clothes and possessions, and beat us. And they insulted the Koran, they trod on the Koran," he told the BBC's Arabic service.

'Many killed' in Syrian jail riot
05 Jul 08 |  Middle East
Country profile: Syria
04 Apr 08 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Syria
03 May 08 |  Country profiles

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific