London: A hospital worker has provided horrific video evidence that medical staff in the besieged Syrian city of Homs are doing the unthinkable: torturing patients in their care.
Chilling images covertly filmed by the man, who risked his life to bring the plight of what he claims are civilian patients to world attention, were to be broadcast on Channel 4 News on Monday night.
The grainy footage from the Homs military hospital depicts wards full of wounded men, blindfolded and shackled to their beds. Some bear marks of extreme beating. The apparent instruments of torture "a rubber whip and electrical cable" lie openly on a table in one of the wards.
On the orders of the Syrian government, all of those shot or injured during protests in Homs must be brought to the military hospital where staff are in league with the secret police.
The whistleblower, Abu Hamzeh, claims many are whipped and beaten in their beds and worse.
The grim evidence of serious abuse raises the question of where the hundreds of injured civilians from the district of Baba Amr in Homs will be taken once the Red Cross finally negotiates their evacuation.
Abu Hamzeh, not his real name, says he attempted several times to stop what he called "the shameful things" which were happening in the hospital but that after being condemned as a "traitor", he walked out in disgust and never went back.
"I have seen detainees being tortured by electrocution, whipping, beating with batons, and by breaking their legs," he told Mani, a French photojournalist who risked his own life smuggling the footage out of Syria. They twist the feet until the leg breaks. They perform operations without anaesthetics. I saw them slamming detainees' heads against walls. They shackle the patients to beds. They deny them water."
Abu Hamzeh says he witnessed abuse by civilian and military surgeons at the hospital and by other medical staff, including male nurses. He has provided the names of all those he claims worked hand-in-glove with Syrian soldiers and the feared mukhabarat secret police.
Sometimes, he says, he heard patients screaming while being kicked or beaten. The abuse took place, he claims, in the hospital's ambulance section, its prison wards, the X-ray department and even in the intensive care unit.
"Sometimes they have to amputate limbs and they go gangrenous because they don't prescribe antibiotics," he said.
The footage, filmed within the last three months, confirms what victims of such treatment have long claimed, but the Syrian regime has forcefully denied.
Cilina Nasser, author of an Amnesty International report on mistreatment and torture in Syrian military and state-run hospitals "including the military hospital in Homs" was amazed that anyone would risk his life to film in the torture wards.
"This is the first time we have video evidence to corroborate these claims," she said. "The new evidence is horrific. Hospitals should be safe places for anyone who needs medical attention and treatment, but it seems that wounded people in Syria have no safe place to go."
Photo journalist Mani, who spent most of January and February in Homs, said: "Ordinary Syrians now consider it too dangerous to go to state-run hospitals if they're injured. Most opt for hopelessly under-equipped makeshift backstreet clinics.
"I met a 15-year-old boy who had been shot in the leg by a sniper. His father told me he was too afraid to bring his son to hospital. Even though he was in danger of losing his leg, the boy was treated in his own home by a nurse."
Mani said Abu Hamzeh was distraught at what he had witnessed. "He wept as he talked to me about the torture and the fact that he was powerless to prevent it."
Abu Hamzeh insisted there were some "decent doctors" who refused to participate in the abuse of patients, but, he said, they were under constant and close surveillance.