Sunday, 14 August 2016

Former detainees recount torture and organ harvesting in Syria's prisons

 'Omar al-Shogre was 17 when they came for him. Omar would spend the rest of his adolescence in a total of 11 Syrian prisons, facing torture from a multitude of men belonging to the government’s elaborate, sinister security apparatus. "I could drink their blood."

 In Tartus he was tortured with electrocution – to his neck, arms, legs, and genitals. On another occasion, prisoners were force-fed salt before being offered water as a relief from the thirst. But their penises were then tied up, preventing them from urinating and causing intense kidney pain.

 Omar began to know the meaning of hunger: the prisoners often went without food for days; when it came it was a few potatoes and eggs, often covered in blood or mould. “It continued for months,” Omar said. “People were crying from hunger.” There was always extra torture on celebratory days, such as the Muslim festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, and Mother’s Day. Torture parties, Omar called them.

 Prisoners came from many backgrounds and nationalities. They shared skills, professions and languages. They taught themselves how to divide their tiny food rations with threads from the military uniforms they were forced to wear, and how to kill the lice that crawled over their bodies. Omar recalled two fellow inmates with particular warmth: Bara’a Manieh from rural Damascus, was a natural leader, and “always happy”. Radwan al-Eisa from Hama became a close friend.
 But over time both were taken away by officers and had their toes burnt off with acid and their eyes pulled out. Neither one was seen alive again.
 Omar’s final prison was the notorious Sednaya jail, north of Damascus. One of his many "duties" was helping to dispose of the corpses of dead inmates. He once saw a room full of bodies, with none of the usual signs of torture. Instead, there were large wounds where their hearts, livers and kidneys once were.
 Organ harvesting appeared to be taking place on a large scale.
 Yehia Rashid al-Salim from Palmyra can still feel the pain of the beatings. Yehia was subjected to the “al-Shabah” torture method: a prisoner’s hands are shackled and he is suspended from the ceiling of his cell, feet centimetres from the floor. Then he is beaten.
 He was then transferred to the military police branch in the city of Homs, and then to the notorious “Palestine Branch” prison in Damascus, where he was tortured three or four times a day. Life inside the cell was “revolting”. People were forced to remain naked and infectious diseases spread quickly. Tuberculosis, lice and scabies caused infections and death on an almost daily basis.
 “The jailer would enter and ask how many dead there were that day,” Yehia said. “We put the bodies by the door of the cell, where they were taken to an unknown location.”
 The lucky prisoners died, Yehia says, because death was a blessed escape. “I wish death upon the detainees at every turn. It is an escape from torment and pain, from the hunger and oppression and humiliation and torment and humiliation, from everything inside.”
 Yehia ended up in Idomeni camp, the makeshift city home to 10,000 refugees on the Greece-Macedonia border that was closed down in May.

“There are scars and marks on my back to the present day. I wish to show the violations of this criminal regime. Until now I have not had the opportunity. I want the world to see what is happening: the Assad regime's violations against detainees.”

More than 12,500 people have died under torture in prisons in the past five years, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. The government of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for 99 per cent of those victims, according to a special report that the monitoring group released in June. The group accuses the Syrian government of denying torture and blaming arrests made on al-Qaeda and other militant groups.
 The group's chairman, Fadel Abdul Ghani, said: “We are still waiting for the free world to take the next stop in order to protect humanity in Syria, now that this mechanism is exposed.” '

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