Tuesday, 27 June 2017
At 15 I was tortured in Assad’s prisons. I escaped, but thousands still suffer
'For the 10 months I spent as a detainee in the prisons of Bashar al-Assad, I only saw my family in my dreams. At night, the screams would stop for an hour or two, and I could close my eyes and remember what it was like to be human. When I slept, I would return to my life.
Today is the UN’s International Day for Support of Victims of Torture. Unfortunately in Syria, there is no shortage of victims of torture. Tens of thousands of us have been thrown in Assad’s prisons and tortured beyond what our bodies and minds can take. Many of us die there. Those of us who have survived will spend the rest of our lives being reminded of just how evil humanity is capable of being.
I was only 15 when I was arrested and subjected to months of physical and psychological torture.
I am lucky to have survived. There were times I wished for death. As happy as I am to return to life again, I am equally gripped by sadness and pain knowing more than 200,000 prisoners are still there. My freedom feels incomplete as long as my Syrian brothers and sisters suffer behind those high walls. I am a hostage of my memory.
Aleppo is my home. I was forced to leave there in 2013 to try to escape the barrel bombs and besiegement of the city by Assad and his allies. My mother, siblings and I fled to Lebanon. At the age of 14, I had to leave school and begin working to try to sustain our family. At the end of 2014, we were forced to return to Syria because we could not afford Lebanese residence and working permits.
On the way home, I was arrested by members of a political security branch in Damascus. They accused me of taking part in the peaceful demonstrations at the beginning of the popular Syrian revolution against Assad.
This is a regime known for its oppression, its tyranny, and its corruption. But it is also a regime that stands against humanity. It is a regime that could arrest a 15-year-old, a kid, and subject him to months of torture and starvation and psychological trauma. And I am not by any means a unique story in Syria.
When I was first arrested, I was taken to security branch headquarters near Damascus, where I was tortured during sessions of interrogation for 58 days straight. After 58 days of this treatment, I had no choice but to sign false confessions that the interrogator himself wrote. I put my name to offences I had never committed, and confessions about people I had never met. I was even forced to sign a document that accused my brother of being an armed rebel.
I was held in that branch for four-and-a-half months, then moved to the political security administration at Fayha’ in Damascus. Here I was tortured in even more ways. I was given electric shocks on sensitive parts of my body; suspended from the ceiling; tortured using brutal methods known as “wind carpet”, “the wheel”, and “the bed”. This went on for another three months.
This is when I was transferred to Saydnaya military prison. The Living Persons’ Graveyard. The Human Slaughterhouse. These are names that describe Saydnaya.
I spent a month there. The mornings for detainees in this place starts with death. Before sunrise, the guards would yell with hate and scorn to wake us up, and we were ripped out of the dreams where we sought sweet refuge. “You, bastards of the cell, who has a corpse?” they would yell. And we would fetch the corpses of our brothers who had left our living hell.
We survived on scraps of rubbish for food. We became so starved that our bodies stopped looking human. We were whipped, beaten, starved, given electric shocks. We saw people taken to be hanged en masse. There are stories of prisoners being forced to rape each other, or of guards raping prisoners. There are stories of guards forcing prisoners to kill their own friends and family, or be tortured and executed. Saydnaya is hell on Earth.
Every day, we waited for punishment. You don’t know anything, and you don’t know when you’re going to be tortured or killed. Saydnaya is not where you go to be tortured for information. Saydnaya is where you go to die.
After a month of that living hell, I was transferred to Tishreen military hospital. Don’t be fooled by the word “hospital”. It was not a place of healing and care. There is a reason detainees in Saydnaya do not ask to see the doctor, and refuse to answer when nurses ask who has injuries.
While in my months as a detainee I was tortured physically, the psychological torture at the military hospital was unparalleled. I was only there for two days, but that was long enough to witness the worst of humanity. I wasn’t fed for two days. I was put in a tiny room just 3 metres by 3 metres, where dead bodies were piled over one another; one was rotting. My room had three tuberculosis patients. We had to carry corpses around.
I saw many executions. A guard held his foot on the neck of a detainee to suffocate him to death. Another was given an “air injection” of poison. The smell of death surrounds you.
I then returned to Saydnaya, where I stayed for one final, brutal month. One day I was beaten so harshly I passed out – simply because I happened to be born on a street under opposition control.
In October 2015, after 10 months of detention, I won my freedom. But my mind will never be free. I am free, but I’ve been taken hostage by the cries of my fellow prisoners, the groans of their wounds, the screams of their torture, their secret prayers, their emaciated bodies and their deaths once they could bear life no more.
My story is like hundreds of thousands of other stories, but I ask you to look past the numbers and think: what if this happened to you? Or to your brother, or sister, or father, or mother, or child, or friend? Would you support the continued leadership in Syria of the man responsible?
I have escaped the prisons, and escaped Syria’s borders, but I have no future. I have no signs of hope. Assad has ruined the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. If our children and our children’s children have any hope in Syria, Assad cannot remain. As long as he is in power, his forces will continue to crush the spirit of anyone who dares to want freedom.'