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Syrian Spokeswoman Discusses Reports Of Torture

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Syrian Spokeswoman Discusses Reports Of Torture

Middle East

Syrian Spokeswoman Discusses Reports Of Torture

Syrian Spokeswoman Discusses Reports Of Torture

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In Syria Thursday, thousands of people are fleeing to Turkey in fear of a government crackdown. Melissa Block speaks with Reem Haddad, the spokeswoman for the Syrian Information Ministry, about the refugees and about the reports of the Syrian government using torture against prisoners.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And we begin this hour with the ongoing anti-government demonstrations and the crackdown in Syria. More than 2,000 Syrian refugees have now crossed into Turkey. They've been fleeing as government tanks have advanced toward their town, Jisr al-Shughur. That was a site of an intense battle earlier this week. The government says some 120 members of the security forces died.

BLOCK: What exactly happened is in dispute, but it's clear the people there fear government reprisals. The U.N. Security Council is now taking up a resolution that would condemn Syria for brutalizing its own people. It cites systematic attacks that may amount to crimes against humanity.

For reaction to that, we reached Reem Haddad in Damascus. She's the director of Syrian state television and a spokeswoman for the Syrian Information Ministry. Haddad accuses the Security Council of an anti-Syrian bias.

Ms. REEM HADDAD (Syrian Information Ministry): We feel that countries like Syria do not get a fair chance or a fair hearing in the United Nations Security Council because at the end of the day, this resolution that is going to be taken, it's not I believe, but which was supposed to have been taken, is based on what evidence, may I ask?

BLOCK: Well, that raises the question of why your government will not allow a fact-finding mission from the U.N. into your country as they've requested. Why not do that?

Ms. HADDAD: I can't answer that because I don't have enough information on that, and what I can say is that I think Syria has started, because this morning we allowed LBC, which is the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, and NTV, which is New Television, also from Lebanon, these two stations, independent stations of course, have been allowed into Jisr al-Shughur. So maybe there's a door opening here.

BLOCK: Just those two? Will any U.S. organizations, any other European news organizations be allowed into Syria to cover this story?

Ms. HADDAD: I don't know. As spokesperson for the ministry of information, I don't have that kind of information.

BLOCK: You know that Turkey is now saying that nearly 2,000 Syrians have fled across the border into Turkey with many more camped out near the border, fearing an all-out government assault on the town of Jisr al-Shughur. How do you explain that mass exodus from your country?

Ms. HADDAD: Right. Let me just make it very clear that these two bordering villages, because the people are leaving from two villages on the border, and those people who are leaving actually have relatives on the other side because it's just like - it's very near.

Now, let me also make another issue clear. What has happened up till now in Jisr al-Shughur has been due to these armed groups that have murdered and killed over 120 people from the police and from security. The army has not entered into this area, so those people fleeing are not fleeing from the army because the army is not there. They are fleeing from these armed groups.

BLOCK: Ms. Haddad, what you're saying flies in the face of many, many accounts now of - from those people who have fled. They are talking about soldiers attacking men, women and children. Helicopters opening fire on peaceful protesters, and they say that many of those soldiers killed were, in fact, defecting, were joining with the town to defend it and were killed by army loyalists.

Ms. HADDAD: No. But that goes right against what Turkey is saying, actually, because it's very clear that the Syrian army has not entered. It's very clear.

BLOCK: I don't believe that Turkey has said anything to call into question the account of those people who have fled your country and sought refuge in Turkey. They're going there by the thousands.

Ms. HADDAD: They are going there by the thousands, but they're not fleeing the army because the army is not there.

BLOCK: But if you listen to their accounts, they're saying precisely that they are fleeing the army.

Ms. HADDAD: The army has not entered Jisr al-Shughur. An explanation for that is a lot of these armed groups are actually wearing army uniforms, but they might be mistaken for the army. But the army has not entered, by all accounts, and this is a fact.

BLOCK: Ms. Haddad, there are a growing number of deeply troubling reports about the torture of children in your country, some of whom were arrested earlier this spring for writing anti-government graffiti, and also now, two videos circulating of young boys who have been brutalized and mutilated. The government has promised an investigation. What are the results of that investigation?

Ms. HADDAD: That's right, yes. I think that was important, actually, and that was a terrible thing that children who wrote graffiti should go to prison. And the president actually said that, and that there was an investigative committee, and that people who did wrong will be brought to justice. And this is something that I can guarantee for you.

Now, obviously, I don't know how far they are in their investigations, but I know that they're asking for people every single day. They're questioning people every single day.

BLOCK: Ms. Haddad, does the Syrian regime - do Syrian security forces engage in the torture of detainees, including children?

Ms. HADDAD: You know, this is the question that you're asking me, I don't know that do they use torture. I suppose some of them they might do. I mean, does the U.S. use torture? Do we have Guantanamo? Do we have Abu Ghraib? I don't know.

BLOCK: You're saying you cannot confirm or deny?

Ms. HADDAD: I cannot verify. It's not my position to verify. I'm spokesperson for the ministry of information. You'll have to ask - I don't know - the military or the police or something.

BLOCK: Well, as a spokeswoman for the Syrian Information Ministry, do you find it troubling that these cases are coming forward, video of children who people say have been tortured at the hands of Syrian authorities?

Ms. HADDAD: I'll tell you what I find troubling. I find troubling the misrepresentation of Syria overboard. I find troubling that there are all these biased and prejudiced accounts of what happened. Not once is Syria given a fair chance. It appears to me that it is as if people in the West suddenly care about Syrians more than Syrians care about their own people, which to me is really ludicrous, Melissa.

BLOCK: Reem Haddad, spokeswoman for the Syrian Information Ministry, speaking with me from Damascus.

Ms. Haddad, thank you.

Ms. HADDAD: You're welcome. Bye-bye.

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