'Creating Facebook pages demanding the release of detainees was common during the first two years of the uprising. Their creation in itself illustrated a remarkable change in a country where political detentions before the uprising used to be cloaked with the utmost secrecy and censorship. But it was also a testament to the lengths that Syrians had come and of the various cracks they managed to break in the regime’s previously impenetrable wall of fear.
But the Facebook page created following Imad’s second arrest, this time with six of his friends, was quickly removed at the request of the detainees’ families. This time around, they said, they did not want any noise or publicity. A seemingly small detail, one illustrating a new shift taking place in Syria.
As the revolt eventually gave way to civil war, the initial sparks of hope and buoyancy were quashed and transmuted into utter despair. The cracks that Syrians had made in that impenetrable wall had all but faded, giving way to even greater fear: fear of the mere mention that a son or daughter had been detained; fear of demanding their release; fear of merely uttering their names.
In Syria, the forced disappearance apparatus doesn’t only seek to conceal evidence, exonerate perpetrators, and intimidate the survivors. It also operates to subsidize the Syrian regime’s prison industrial complex. The numerous security and intelligence services use the information they withhold as a bargaining chip, misleading families and exploiting their need, powerlessness and vulnerability, eventually forcing them to pay millions of SYPs for the evidence that will never come.
Fear, silence, exploitation and intimidation become essential to the perpetuation of forced disappearance as an effective weapon in the state’s arsenal against the people, against the “unwanted” disposable class. It becomes more than just a punitive measure for caging dissidents and squelching dissent. It carries a far more destructive and collective impact, constantly hovering over entire communities.
A thought has to be spared to those whenever we write down a hashtag that includes the names of prisoners. Because in Syria, the hundreds of thousands of forcibly disappeared will never be hashtagged, and neither will be their tragedies. In Assad’s Syria, families are tired of hoping that their loved ones will be free; all they can say, after an estimated 20,000 had been killed under torture is, “Save the rest!” They already know that no one will listen to their shattered voices and pleas.'