The Conscience Movement, an international nongovernmental organization (NGO), has called on the global community to take urgent action to secure the release of women and children languishing in Syrian prisons.
They held a conference in Istanbul yesterday that drew participants from 45 countries, including Syria, Britain, South Africa, Ecuador, Qatar, Kenya, Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Greece, Pakistan, Congo and Malaysia.
The event is to raise 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, The Conscience Movement spokesman Yavuz Dede said they 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 Gülden Sönmez, 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," Sönmez said.
She also urged international institutions like the U.N. and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), 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 the 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 speaking at the conference and pledging 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, the chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.