Saturday, 10 March 2018

Women recount torture in Assad regime prisons

Women recount torture in Assad regime prisons

 'Pleading for help for their fellow detainees, women who once languished in Syrian regime-controlled prisons are recounting their torment in an effort to raise awareness.

 A.H.Y., who was incarcerated for six months from 2015 through 2016 in a prison in Homs run by the Bashar al-Assad regime, said she faced torture and as a nurse was prevented from providing medical assistance to those who opposed the regime.

 “They raped teenage girls without showing mercy. We could do nothing. They tortured me and my elder sister in various ways,” she said.

 She lamented that Syria’s society alienates ex-women prisoners.

 “It is the most difficult thing to be a woman in Syria.”

 Narrating her life story, A.H.Y. said she took refuge in Turkey a year and a half ago with her three children, leaving her pro-regime husband behind.

 Another former prisoner, L. A., who was jailed for nine years during the rule of Hafez al-Assad, the father of Bashar al-Assad, said there has been no end to the ordeal.

 Saying she was jailed for opposing the regime, L. A., a law faculty graduate, recounted her torture in prison.

 “The beatings and torture never stopped. They put me in an electric chair. I was also beaten while lying on the ground.”

 Residing in Turkey for four years, A. also mentioned the violence and oppression in regime prisons.

 “Women there are dying every day. There are scores of women in prisons.

 “We should not forget and get them out.”

 On Tuesday, the International Conscience Convoy, which describes itself as the "voice of oppressed women in Syria," embarked on a three-day journey with 55 buses from Istanbul's Yenikapi Square.

 They held a final rally to mark International Women's Day in Hatay, which borders Syria, after making stops in the Turkish cities of Izmit, Sakarya, Ankara and Adana.

 Women from over 50 countries, including Syria, Chile, Palestine, Iraq, England, Brazil, Malaysia, Pakistan, Kuwait and Qatar, addressed a large crowd at a fairground in Antakya district.

 More than 6,700 women, including 417 young girls, are still being held in prisons run by the Syrian regime, according to a statement by the Conscience Convoy.'

Women recount torture in Assad regime prisons

Thursday, 8 March 2018

The rebels are our relatives, they are trying to defend us

buildings reduced to rubble in Eastern Ghouta

 'For the past three weeks, Maram, a young Syrian mother, has been living in an underground shelter with her 3-year-old son, Ahmad, and his 8-month-old brother, Omar.

 Like other underground shelters around their neighborhood in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus, this one is filled to capacity. They eat and sleep and wait out the days alongside 150 people as bombs fall overhead, reducing everything to rubble. They hardly see daylight and can’t get enough food. When they get a chance to peek outside, they can hardly recognize their own homes and streets.

 “The regime is trying to reach here. They are trying to reach here to kill us all,” 24-year-old Maram said. "We are afraid from the chemical [weapons]. The poisonous gases are dangerous, especially if we are in the shelters.”

 Maram asked to be identified only by her first name, since she — and so many other Syrians — fears the Russia-backed Syrian regime, which is behind most of the attacks.

 More than 860 people have been killed since the onslaught in Eastern Ghouta began late last month. Some 400,000 people have been trapped in the rebel-held enclave for years, facing severe food and medicine shortages. The latest bombardment is among the fiercest since the Syrian conflict began in 2011.

 The Syrian government recaptured half of Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday. Meanwhile, an international aid convoy that attempted to reach Ghouta earlier this week had to retreat without fully unloading due to heavy shelling. United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Wednesday called Ghouta “hell on earth” and accused Syria and its foreign allies of already planning their next “apocalypse.”

 That’s indeed how it feels for people like Maram and her family.

 “We don't know why they are targeting us,” she said of the Syrian regime. “The buildings — it’s all residential. It's not for any kind of weapons or warehouses — it's for living, it's for just children, women.”

 “The rebels, all of them, they are from our area,” she continued. “They are our relatives, our cousins. They are not from other countries. They are trying to defend us.”

 All she can do is try to keep her boys from crying. “We are still alive. Until now I don't know what is going to happen to us next.”

 Others in the area have turned to social media in hopes that international attention will lead to help for themselves and others living under bombardment.

 Eleven-year-old Noor and her 8-year-old sister, Alaa, made a video plea to Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations. In near-perfect English, Noor describes the 200 attacks on Ghouta that day alone and asks Haley to “save Ghouta please.”

 PRI reached their mother on a shaky line to ask how her children were coping.

 “Oh my God, you can't imagine how they are feeling now. They are very scared all the time and crying and sitting under the blanket,” said Shams, who also asked to be identified only by her first name.

 Asked how she would respond to those who say she is exploiting her children by putting them before a camera — which some critics are calling propaganda — Shams explained they were simply using the tools available to them to show the world the truth.

 “We don’t lie. This is the situation here in East Ghouta,” she said. “This is our life. We need [to] reach our voice to the world to help us.”

 They couldn’t leave if they tried. The Syrian army “would kill us,” she said.

 Loubna Mrie, a Syrian photographer and writer in New York, is in touch with many other civilians in Eastern Ghouta.

 “Every time they hear a bombing or every time they hear a shelling, they feel like this is their last minute,” Mrie said. “In 10 years if the world stopped and asked, ‘Ok, why we didn't do anything to stop this insanity?’ No one could say, ‘Oh well, we didn't know about it.’ No. You knew. And this is the biggest problem in the world that everyone knows what is going on, but no one is able to stop it, sadly.”

 The fighting won’t end anytime soon, she adds, because the residents refuse to surrender or leave their hometown.

 “This is their city after all,” Mrie said. “It was built by these people, and it’s mainly farmers, and they don't want to go. And for many of them dying their way is better than being sent to a completely new place.” '

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Syrian revolutionary speaks out for those left behind

Noura Al-Jizawi, poses with her 3-month-old baby Naya, at Innis College. Al-Jizawi, a University of Toronto scholar at risk, came to Canada after being targeted for her role in the Syrian rebellion.

 'After detention, torture, and flight from war-torn Syria, Noura Al-Jizawi was invited to speak at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland last month. Presenting a final hurdle, her passport was then called a fake by border officials. It wasn’t the first time, but Al-Jizawi didn’t let it stop her — producing a receipt for the legal document from the Syrian embassy.

 Al-Jizawi is a Syrian revolutionary-turned-University of Toronto student, pursuing a masters’ degree in global affairs through their scholars-at-risk program — which supports graduate students who’ve fled war or persecution. And, as of three months ago, she’s a new mother. 

 The UN Security Council demanded a 30-day ceasefire of populated areas, including eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya, on Feb. 24. The order was made so humanitarian aid could be delivered, and the critically sick and wounded could be evacuated. Security council met behind closed doors on Tuesday to discuss the “failure” of that cease-fire.

 “Sadly, there’s no implementation, and it depends on the international players’ will,” Al-Jizawi said. “This attack against Eastern Ghouta, the besieged areas, must stop immediately.” She said the foreign ministers in Geneva had made “good, powerful statements” on the matter, noting that “strong diplomacy” — not war — was needed to stabilize the situation in Syria.

 Al-Jizawi’s convictions were forged from childhood in Syria, she said. In grade school, she started to notice the number of her schoolmates who had missing fathers. As she moved through her school years, Al-Jizawi said she heard stories in particular about the women and mothers impacted by those missing people. A group of them would covertly share information about the issue, collected from newly-released prisoners, Al-Jizawi said. She wasn’t part of that movement, but began to advocate around that time for the rights of missing people and against political detention. She and other advocates would meet secretly, discussing the authority situation in Syria. They concluded that revolution was the only answer.

 “But no one could predict when revolution would come, because revolution is the act of the majority of people, it’s not the act of a small group,” she said. So they waited and advocated for change. In 2012, she was detained for six months. She’s spoken to several media outlets about being tortured at the time. Multiple members of her family were detained as well, so the family was displaced upon their release. She and her sister fled to Turkey in 2013, staying there until she was able to come to Canada.'

A International Red Cross volunteer stands above the rubble of a destroyed building in Douma in the Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on March 5, 2018 on the outskirts of Damascus. An international convoy entered Syria's rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta to deliver much-needed aid today as the regime pounded the region with fresh bombardment, killing dozens as it seized more ground.

I am a student of freedom, and we called for it peacefully

 'We refuse any sort of displacement. The displacement policy is not welcome here. The Aleppo scenario will not happen in the Eastern Ghouta. Today, we call on the United Nations to execute Resolution 2401, and our message to Mr. Guterres, the children of Ghouta die by your silence, Mr. Guterres. And to UNICEF, who made a statement to the world, saying they couldn't find words to describe what is happening in Eastern Ghouta. With all the alphabets in the world they were unable to describe. An empty statement, they were unable to describe Assad's crimes.

 Yesterday, I buried a child. His name was Qusay Shab. We are being shelled with chemical weapons, and today Russia. Mr. Alexander, I ask that you get this message to Mr. Guterres. Tell him we are being killed, with Russian missiles, with the policy to horrify, and with the policy of burning our land. Twenty times you have come here, running back and forth with "aid". We do not want aid. Nor do we want bread. We were a people of freedom, and we are still determined to get our freedom from this tyrant, Bashar al-Assad. We will not retreat.

  Assad excuses himself by accusing us of attacking Damascus. We attack Damascus? Our brothers and sisters and children are in Damascus. The UN knows very well whose planes are attacking in Damascus. We are against anyone being shelled. Not one shell on a civilian. Whether they are Alawites, or Sunnis, or Kurds.

 Unlike the world that expressed outrage for the children of Kobani, the entire world, is the blood of the children of Ghouta, cheaper than the blood of the children of Kobani? Neither humans nor animals are treated like this. We just want to live normally for 24 hours.

 You ask yourself why I am speaking this way. This is from my pain. I am a student of freedom, and we called for it peacefully. Assad the tyrant forced us to fight with such weapons [holds up missile]. These are not ours. Assad used these weapons on us. This is how they respond to those that want freedom. I ask that you stand with us. Mr. Alexander, please get our message out.'

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Those who have stood with us and stood for our freedom and dignity are also defending themselves

 Aous al-Mubarak:
 'I write this after ten days of the worst suffering I have witnessed in the last seven years. I hold my breath, as does everyone else here, and my chest is filled with sorrow due to the continuing horrors I have witnessed, as the shelling has not ceased. The shelling on civilians has decreased, but overall it has intensified and clashes continue all day, on all the fronts of Ghouta that Assad’s forces and their supporters are trying to storm.

 I do not wish my readers to think I am avoiding the truth with what I say, especially after Security Council Resolution 2401, which was approved by all Security Council members including the Russian government, and after the Russian government announced a five-hour daily ceasefire to evacuate civilians in contradiction of the Security Council resolution. We have grown used to statements from major powers that contradict their actions. The reality is that we have not witnessed a ceasefire of even five minutes over the past ten days.

 It is difficult for me to describe the exhaustion, the disaster and the horrors, and their cumulative effect over the past seven years, but in order to put my description of today’s reality in context, it is necessary to summarize.

 The Syrian revolution began in the spring of 2011, inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions that preceded it, which sought to end tyranny and dictatorship and to give power back to the people. Peaceful protests erupted across most of Syria’s cities and villages. These protests were met by Assad, who inherited the republic’s rule from his father, with repression and killing and imprisonment and torture to death, as he refused to give any rights to the people.

 Roughly a year after the start of the revolution, thousands of martyrs and tens of thousands of imprisonments later, after the regime’s lack of response to any of the demands, no matter how small, and its continuation of its brutal crackdown, protesters began to carry weapons. The revolution headed towards militarization. Radical groups, facilitated by the Assad regime, exploited this situation under the auspices of protecting civilians and the legitimate right to self-defence, obfuscating their radical agendas and pretending, rather, to take these steps out of altruism and self-sacrifice. As their forces increased in number, they flaunted their radical ideology and human rights violations, without anyone daring to defy them so as not to legitimize the regime’s indiscriminate campaign against all. For the regime never stopped bombing areas no longer under its control, targeting civilians in these areas daily.

 This was the situation in most of the areas that were no longer under the regime’s control after the first three years, including East Ghouta, close to Damascus. In 2013, however, East Ghouta, experienced two major events that had a great effect on the area.

 The first is the second largest chemical weapons massacre since World War II (second only to Saddam Hussein's 1988 Halabja Massacre). 1,500 were killed, most of them women and children, and tens of thousands of others injured. It was a horrific day, compared by witnesses to descriptions they have read about the Day of Judgement. The Assad regime got away unpunished after agreeing to give up the weapons. But in reality, the regime did not surrender the entirety of its chemical weapons arsenal, as it has used them tens of times since, the largest case being Khan Sheikhoun which the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism has attributed to the Assad regime.

 The second event is the siege imposed by the Assad regime on East Ghouta, which has led to starvation and cut off the supply of medication, fuel, electricity, water and other necessities, forcing residents to resort to primitive methods to meet their needs. Hundreds have died from starvation and lack of medication, in addition to the thousands that have died in the daily bombings of civilians. The siege continues today, as the regime allows few supplies to reach the area, available at prices ten times those in Damascus, and blocks goods for months on ends, making prices in Ghouta the highest in the world.
 After five years, the area's 450,000 residents have forgotten what it was like not to live under siege, and children have been born who have never seen a fruit, who do not know playgrounds, electricity, or television— who do not know what it is to live in security.

 Clashes have erupted between radical groups and between more moderate and more radical groups, causing East Ghouta to become divided unto itself. But the radicalism has decreased with the withering of ISIS and the dwindling of Nusra to fewer than 1,000.

 I do not wish to say that all we have witnessed is horrific, as society has managed to make great strides in democratic self-governance, the most important being the election of local councils in which all, including women, can participate—something that had not occurred under the 50 years of rule by both Assads. We have also witnessed the development of many civil initiatives to reinforce the idea of human rights and societal development.

 But all of this is continuously undermined by the attacks on civilians by the Assad regime. The number of dead in Ghouta has reached the tens of thousands, among them those whose requests for medical evacuation were denied by the Assad regime. Despite all the rhetoric about de-escalation and truce agreements, the regime’s crimes have never stopped. Ghouta’s residents hear the news and statements then look at their reality only to find nothing has changed.

 No one believed us when we said the regime did not know anything about politics except how to regurgitate its propaganda in international fora and apply its military solution, rejecting the idea of negotiations about rights for the people. No political solution can be reached because the regime refuses to relinquish any part of its “ownership” of the country, and perhaps is unable to do so.

 In a continuation of this policy, the regime launched a campaign of unparalleled brutality on Ghouta on the night of February 18, 2018. We have lived through hundreds of massacres and bombing campaigns, but we had never seen anything like this.

 Every day tens of thousands of bombs and shells and barrel bombs are dropped. At any given moment, fighter jets and helicopters could begin swarming over Ghouta at any given moment, and artillery fire and rocket launchers bombing residential areas continuously. Ghouta is now completely paralyzed, and residents have been forced to seek shelter underground. The streets are deserted and stores are closed.

 The jets use a type of highly explosive bomb that we have not seen before; a single one of them is capable of bringing down a six-story building. Dozens of buildings have fallen in on their occupants, and underground shelters have collapsed on women and children, the rubble crushing them to death.

 The bombing surrounds us from every direction, the rockets deafen us and make us fear we are next. Something we all agree on: if it must be, make it a quick death for us and our children. Let it be a death without pain, not a slow death beneath the rubble.

 Underground field hospitals are overflowing with the dead and the injured and doctors can no longer manage to work around the clock. Hospitals are continuously bombed to prevent the injured from being treated, as the regime did to the protesters in 2011, preventing them from being treated and arresting them immediately as the hospital entrance.

 As for the White Helmets, they are the noblest people I have met since the beginning of the revolution. They are true heroes, rushing immediately towards bombed areas, despite the density and intensity of the bombing, to save the injured and pull victims out from under the rubble. Collapsed underground shelters are a new phenomenon for the White Helmets, but this has not stopped them from digging underground tunnels from neighboring streets to reach them.

 Some of them have been martyred performing their noble duty, and their centers have not been spared the concentrated bombing that seeks to put them out of service and kill the maximum number of people possible. It is not surprising that the Assad regime and its supporters would hate them and spread lies about them. The latest of these is that they are preparing a chemical attack on civilians and plan to blame it on Assad.

 Despite the great efforts by civil groups to lessen the suffering and horrors, the disaster is simply too great for its impact to be lessened by much. Many underground shelters are not equipped with bathrooms or the most basic of amenities. People spend most of their days in complete darkness, waiting for the unstoppable bombing to cease. Many of them have lost their homes in the bombing. They cannot find anything to buy outside and don't have the money required to leave the area, because they are living day-to-day, and work is very hard to come by.

 Even though the bombing has lessened in the past couple of days, as it has intensified on Ghouta's front lines, which are stormed from every direction by the regime, things remain paralyzed, with no one daring to return to normal life because of the possibility of being killed in the bombing.

 I want to remind everyone that there are countries fighting in Syria via their proxies in the regime and opposition, leaving civilians to pay the price; and that these same governments have apologized for the massacres their ancestors perpetrated against Native Americans, Africans, and Jews. Perhaps they expect their grandchildren to apologize for what they are doing to us today.

 There is, however, a positive aspect that we must keep in mind, and that is the solidarity we have experienced from people from across the world. To all who have stood with us and stood for our freedom and dignity, we are thankful and grateful. They are also defending themselves, for a victory by the tyrannical and brutal regimes over those who called for freedom and democracy in a world poses a serious threat to the fundamental values of freedom, justice, human rights, and democracy.'

Are our lives so cheap?

Image result for Darlington Syrian refugee speaks about Ghouta attacks
 ' “Are our lives so cheap?" is the question from a Syrian refugee to the international community as conflict rages in his homeland.”

 Mouhyedin Alkalel called on the world to do more to help his people as attacks on eastern Ghouta continue in violation of a 30-day ceasefire voted for by the United Nations Security Council on Saturday.

 Mr Alkalel, who now lives in Darlington, believes more action should be taken.

 Condemning the actions of Assad and allies including Russia and Iran, he said: “It is a disgrace to the international community, that all of its humanitarian organisations have witnessed all of these massacres for more than six years and have not been moved more to help the Syrians still in Syria.

 There are people dying of cold and hunger there and in countries of asylum and in Ghouta, children are being killed by ballistic missiles.

 Authorities within the international community are helping to kill the people of Syria and its children with silence about the massacres and I do not know how long this can go on for.

 All of this blood is flowing in Syria and if I could ask anything it would be for the UN Security Council, its permanent members and the United Nations to stir their feelings, if they have feelings, and issue a real decision to stop the killing.

 We are in the 21st century and all of this is happening in front of the eyes of the international community, in sight of the whole world and they are not doing enough to help. Are the lives and blood of children, women and the elderly in my country so cheap?” '

Image result for Darlington Syrian refugee speaks about Ghouta attacks