SYRIA: Attorney general in Hama denounces regime, quits
The attorney general for Syria's central governorate of Hama says in a video posted Thursday that he has resigned, in response to what he described as the "barbaric treatment of peaceful demonstrators" by the government of President Bashar Assad and his "thugs."
Adnan Mohamad Bakkour's resignation is a blow to the regime in Damascus, which has seen relatively few defections by high-ranking officials.
"I give the following reasons for my resignation. First, the killing of 72 prisoners, who were peaceful protesters and political activists, in the central Hama prison on Sunday, July 31, and then the burying of them all in a mass grave near Khaldieh in Hama," Bakkour, dressed in a suit and tie, said in a video posted on the Internet.
According to the lawyer, about 320 people were tortured to death inside stations for the security forces.
"I was forced to order that 17 bodies be moved from refrigerators and buried," he said.
On the recording, Bakkour said he also was forced by the government to report that ''armed gangs'' killed nearly 420 peaceful protesters, whose bodies were buried in mass graves in public parks.
Another reason Bakkour gave for his resignation was the security forces' indiscriminate destruction of houses "over the heads of their inhabitants" in Hamadiya and Qusour in Homs, where bodies were left under the rubble for several days, he said.
He promised viewers that he would divulge documents incriminating the Assad regime, and provided the names of officers in the security forces as well as those of soldiers who participated in the more-than-5-month-old bloody clampdown of peaceful protesters in various Syrian towns.
"Do not think God is forgiving of what the oppressors do," he concluded in the nearly 3-minute recording that was broadcast on the pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera.
The attorney general, originally from Talbeeseh in the province of Homs, where protests against the government have continued despite brutal security crackdowns, was previously a supporter of the Baath regime, as all higher-ranking officials usually are.
The Damascus regime fought back Thursday, declaring that the attorney general had been kidnapped by "armed terrorist cells" that held him at gunpoint and forced him to make false confessions, according to reports by the state-owned Syrian Arab News Network, SANA.
Bakkour denied SANA's claims in a second video uploaded to YouTube the same day.
"The story state television is telling, that I was kidnapped by armed terrorist cells, is not true," he said. "I am under the protection of the rebels and the people. Plainclothes security forces tried to kidnap me from Hamadiya in Hama, but they failed."
One of the Syrian opposition networks, the Local Coordination Committees, voiced concern for the safety of Bakkour's family on Thursday, as the Assad regime has usually targeted relatives of activists in retaliation.
Activists also reported that Syria's Air Force Intelligence had arrested Yassine Ziadeh, brother of Radwan Ziadeh, a Washington-based prominent Syrian human rights activist and president of the Damascus Center for Human Rights.
The whereabouts of Yassine Ziadeh remained unknown, and activists say they fear he is being subjected to ill treatment or torture.
"God be with him and hopefully many will follow his example," said Abu Zeid.
"He was pro-regime, but I think with time he knew too much to remain loyal to Assad," he said.
Hama was the scene of the 1982 massacre, when Hafez Assad, the father of Syria's current president, razed much of the city to subdue what the government said was an Islamist uprising. The government assault killed tens of thousands of residents.
The city's bloody past has not deterred anti-regime protesters from taking to the streets.
Amateur video footage posted online Thursday showed hundreds of demonstrators singing in Hama as they marched through the streets.
"How beautiful freedom is," they chanted in unison.
Some Syrians have found comfort in Bakkour's bravery.
"This is not like when soldiers defect. Someone in his position and of his status -- it is huge," said Omar, a Hama resident and shop owner.
-- Roula Hajjar in Beirut
Photo: An image said to show protesters in Hama on Thursday, carrying a banner that reads "the Hama rebel returns." Credit: YouTube