Like his father before him, President Bashar Assad is using mass detentions, long-term imprisonments, torture and killings to tame mostly non-violent protests that began in March, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates more than 45,000 Syrians have been detained, though Amnesty International says that number is closer to 13,000. The United Nations estimates the death toll at the hands of security forces to be around 4,000.
Dima, a Damascus-based activist using an alias, says families are too scared to ask about loved ones who have gone missing.
"No one dares ask about them, except in indirect ways," said Dima. "If anyone asks about his son, he will be questioned, and he can be detained. The only way we are hearing about people who are being detained is when a friend in prison is released."
Activists hoped to avoid a repeat of former President Hafez Assad's tactics by staging peaceful protests, but a rising death toll has steered demonstrators toward armed conflict, the Times reported.