File Photo: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Italian television station RaiNews24 in Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA on September 29, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
Hundreds of inmates in a Syrian prison have been observing a hunger strike to demand their release, a detainee and a monitoring group said on Tuesday.
The prisoners being held in Homs, in central Syria, include prisoners of conscience who were jailed for taking part in anti-government protests when the conflict broke out nearly four years ago.
"Practically everyone in the prison -- more than 1,000 people -- is taking part in a hunger strike that we began four days ago," a detainee, who did not want to be named, told AFP by phone from the prison.
"We demand to know our fate, and we demand freedom. Some people here have been sentenced to 30 years in jail just for protesting peacefully. Others were imprisoned totally arbitrarily," he added.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that a hunger strike was underway at the Homs prison.
The monitoring group, wich relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria for its information, said many of the prisoners have completed their sentences and are awaiting release.
The hunger strikers are also protesting against "illtreatment by prison guards and a lack of food and medicines," said the Observatory.
They are demanding that National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar meet with them and fulfil their demands, it added.
According to the Observatory, around 200,000 people have been jailed by the Syrian authorities since March 2011, when protesters took to the streets demanding the overthrow of the government.
The revolt quickly escalated into an armed conflict between rebels and government forces after a brutal regime crackdown on protesters.
The Observatory says some 12,000 people have died in detention since the revolt began.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticised conditions in Syrian detention facilities, accusing the regime of widespread torture and abuse.
The prisoner who spoke to AFP said 12 prisoners have fainted during the hunger strike but were looked after by other detainees who include doctors.
He complained, however, of a lack of medicines and said: "No one has responded to our hunger strike at all."