At least 60,000 people have died due to torture and maltreatment in Syrian jails since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad broke out five years ago, a monitoring group said Saturday, quoting sources within the country's security forces.
The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the figure of 60,000 deaths came from reliable sources, primarily in the air force intelligence and state security agencies and at the notorious Sednaya prison near Damascus.
The victims died as a direct result of torture or due to a lack of food and medicine inside the detention facilities, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
The observatory said that using other sources, it had itself documented the deaths of 14,456 detainees, including 110 children under the age of 18.
The Syrian opposition has pushed for the release of detainees as a humanitarian measure to facilitate the resumption of peace talks in the Swiss city of Geneva.
UN rights investigators in February charged that the Syrian government was carrying out an extermination policy among its prisoners.
The investigators cited testimony from witnesses who recounted inmates dying from "torture, disease, and appalling prison conditions" and then being buried in mass graves.
Earlier this month, inmates in Hama prison in central Syria rioted and took guards hostage in protest over an attempt to transfer several prisoners to Sednaya prison.
The inmates feared the transferees, who had been sentenced to death by ad-hoc military courts, would face execution, the observatory reported at the time.
Authorities regained control after agreeing to the release of dozens of detainees, according to the monitoring group.
The observatory called on the UN to bring pressure to bear on the Syrian government for the release of what it said were more than 200,000 remaining detainees.
Syria's conflict, which began with peaceful protests in March 2011, has spiralled into a multi-sided civil war that has cost a quarter of a million lives and displaced half the country's population, according to UN estimates.