Syrian-American man sues Assad regime in US court over alleged torture

Obada Mzaik filed lawsuit under law that permits Americans to sue foreign governments

Pictures of Syrians who have been detained or forcibly disappeared are placed on the pavement during a demonstration in Berlin. AFP
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Syrian-American Obada Mzaik has filed a civil lawsuit against the government of Syria for allegedly detaining and torturing more than a decade ago after he took part in protests against the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

The suit was filed on Wednesday in Washington by Centre for Justice and Accountability, a non-profit based in the US, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, a London law firm.

“I am filing this lawsuit in the name of all the many Syrians who were tortured in detention centres but who don’t have the opportunity to obtain justice,” Mr Mzaik, who was born and raised in Ohio, said in a press release.

Mr Mzaik was a 22-year-old student in 2012, when he was detained and tortured at the Air Force Intelligence Branch at the Mezzeh Military Airport in Damascus, according to a press release.

He claims that, while being held for three weeks, he was beaten, threatened with electrocution and forced to watch relatives being tortured.

The lawsuit was filed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a federal law that permits US citizens to sue foreign governments for crimes including torture.

Rights groups say that more than 130,000 Syrians are still detained or have been forcibly disappeared by the regime for taking part in protests during the Arab uprisings that erupted across the Middle East starting in 2011.

Survivors and families have formed the international campaign Free Syria’s Disappeared, calling for the release of the detainees and for the survivors to pursue justice in courts.

“We support the filing of the US suit, which will help to document the impact of detention, not just on the detainees themselves but also on their family members and loved ones, many of whom continue to suffer to this day from the state’s brutal policy,” Yasmen Almashan, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said in a statement.

Updated: April 13, 2023, 4:27 PM