Syria: Photos charging mass torture by regime ‘fake’

Updated 10:54 PM EST, Wed January 22, 2014

Story highlights

Syrian Justice Ministry says photos are "fake" and have no relation to government detainees

It also says pictures show "foreign terrorists" and regime supporters killed by terrorists

The photos of alleged mass torture and killing in Syria come as peace talks are to begin

Report authors say they show "systematic torture and killing" of prisoners by al-Assad regime

(CNN) —  

Photos that allegedly show the Syrian regime committing mass torture are “fake,” Syria’s Justice Ministry said Wednesday.

In a statement on the state news agency SANA, the Justice Ministry categorically denied allegations published in a new report accusing the regime of torturing and killing thousands of detainees in government custody.

The statement branded the report “politicized and lacking in objectivity and professionalism” and said some of the photos are of “foreign terrorists.”

It then said any expert “could easily find out that these pictures are fake and that they have no relation to prisoners or detainees in Syrian prisons.”

The report, first released by CNN on Monday, was authored by a team of international legal and forensic experts based on thousands of photographs provided by a Syrian defector. He claimed to have worked as a photographer at a military hospital that received dead bodies from detention centers.

The Justice Ministry’s response is the first official Syrian government reaction to the report, which emerged on the eve of an international peace talks in Switzerland.

The images purportedly show “systematic torture and killing” of detainees by the al-Assad regime.

Could photos be a game changer?

That assertion is being made by a team of internationally recognized war crimes prosecutors and forensic experts, who analyzed thousands of digital photos taken and provided by a Syrian defector codenamed “Caesar,” who, along with his family, is now living outside Syria in an undisclosed location.

Lifeless bodies, signs of starvation

In the photos, lifeless bodies show signs of starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation and other forms of torture and killing, according to the report.

The experts’ report was partly sponsored by the government of Qatar, which funded the British law firm Carter-Ruck to write it. Qatar and Saudi Arabia provide most of the outside support for Syria’s rebel forces.

The Syrian Justice Ministry accused Carter-Ruck of a lack of professionalism and said it was “known to have direct ties with countries that are hostile to the Syrian Arab Republic since the start of the crisis.”

Aside from the photos of “foreign terrorists,” other individuals shown are “civilians and military personnel who were killed as a result of torture by armed terrorist groups because they were accused of being pro-state,” it claims.

The ministry questions the credibility of the photographer, saying he was “a fugitive who fled Syria and who was already facing legal action,” and asks how he would have got the necessary documents to leave the country.

It also suggests that the timing of the publication of the photographs reveals their “true purpose” – that of undermining the peace talks starting in Montreux Wednesday and moving to Geneva at the end of the week.

The report “aims to undermine the efforts to bring peace in Syria and put an end to the international sponsored terrorism in the country,” the statement said.

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CNN’s Saad Abedine and Schams Elwazer contributed to this report.