Torture In Syria Increasingly Brutal

Saeed participated in the earliest of the anti-regime protests in Damascus last year. He was among the first activists to start mobilising city residents and help establish a network to coordinate with activists in other Syrian governorates.

One of his main activities was rallying people to participate in a demonstration at the Omayyad Mosque on the first of the “Revolution Fridays”, March 18, 2011.

A few days later, as he was on his way to meet other activists to organise a sit-in to demand the release of detainees, he was abducted by the occupants of a black car in the city centre.

“I was blindfolded and got punched and smacked from every direction,” he said, recounting what happened when he was brought in to a detention centre. “After that, the interrogator kicked me in the back and I fell down the stairs. I felt my knees being smashed, but I didn’t scream.”

“They put me close to the room where the ‘German chair’ was so that I’d hear the screams of people being tortured. I knew the device was in there because of the sound of the chains and the wooden boards, and the interrogator’s voice telling security officers to pull the chains tighter. The device squeezes the spine by arching the torso and legs. It’s one of the worst torture devices used at detention centres.

“I didn’t go through the [German] chair,” Saeed continued. “They only whipped me with cables until my body was numb and I couldn’t feel the pain any more, and then they took me into a solitary confinement cell. I took my clothes off – my feet were swollen and the blood wasn’t circulating in my muscles. The areas where I was whipped the most had gone blue. It was a horrible sight, and I thought I was going to suffer permanent damage.”

Fortunately for Saeed, an amnesty decree was issued so that he only spent three days in detention.

When he finished talking, he let out a sigh that gave away how upset and humiliated he was by his ordeal.

Salem, who lives in the countryside surrounding Aleppo, went through a similar experience while in detention.

He and five relatives were taken from the family farm by members of military security. They were dragged, kicked and hit with rifle butts, and their hands were then tied and they were put into the back of a pickup truck, where they were whipped and trampled on. A hard object that felt like a rifle butt slammed hard against Salem’s jaw, breaking one of his teeth.

When they reached the detention centre, Salem was taken, blindfolded, to a room where there was a pungent smell. The interrogation began as he was punched, whipped with cables, and beaten on the soles of his feet.

Salem was twice given electric shocks to force him to give away the names of activists who had fled from his village to Turkey.

He spent 16 days in detention, which he described as the cruellest days of his life.

“One would wish to die in the hands of these people, blinded by hatred and stripped of their humanity,” he said.

“I was suffocating, as if I was in a grave.”

While there are no accurate statistics on the number of people currently detained in Syrian prisons, estimates range between 25,000 and 50,000.

Organisations that document human rights violations in prisons and detention centres include the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria, the Kurdish Organisation for the Defence of Human Rights and Public Liberties, the Committees for the Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria.

Radeef Mustafa, a legal activist and director of the Syrian National Council’s Human Rights Bureau, says it is difficult to conduct a systematic survey of human rights abuses under current conditions, but he is certain the numbers are far higher than what is being reported by civil rights activists and groups.

Mustafa is now in Turkey after the Syrian security forces hunted him and arrested his sons for being part of the revolution.

“Despite the situation, we monitor, document and issue reports. In most cases, our sources are the detainees themselves,” Mustafa, said adding that activists in the field serve as a link between the Human Rights Bureau and former detainees by collecting testimonies.

These testimonies are later used to issue human rights reports which Mustafa oversees and which are distributed to local, regional and international human rights organisations.

Mustafa says his observations indicate that the brutality of the torture employed is on the increase, and sometimes results in death or permanent disability.

A report issued by Amnesty International in June 2012 noted that three men from Aleppo were arrested on June 17, and their bodies found on June 24 with signs of torture.

Serdar, a form detainee, is now receiving physiotherapy to treat a displaced vertebra after being tortured in the “German chair”.

After helping organising protests in Damascus and Qamishli, he was arrested at a checkpoint in Rif Dimashq governorate, the countryside surrounding Damascus. He was taken to Al-Mintaqa security headquarters in Damascus, which is used by several security services.

“The physical torture didn’t hurt me as much as the psychological abuse, which included forced nudity, insults, and forcing us to run naked between the cell and the interrogation room. It was hell itself,” Serdar said.

Many people who have spent time at Al-Mintaqa avoid the street where the building is located because of the torment they suffered there.

Abdel Raouf, who spent time at this security facility, told a similar story. He says he was brutally beaten and hung up by the hands to force him to disclose information about the Free Syrian Army and people collaborating with it, even though his own activity had been restricted to taking part in demonstrations.

“I often have nightmares when I go to sleep – about the faces and [events] I encountered during my arrest,” Abdel Raouf said. “But what hurt the most was getting slapped in the face and watching old people getting beaten up in front of me. They whipped a man aged over 60 while he was pleading and crying, and the interrogator kept on calling him the vilest of names.

“They also forced me to repeat anti-revolutionary slogans as well as expressions glorifying the dictator Bashar al-Assad.”

Testimony has been gathered from hundreds of former -detainees in the past few months. However, it will take until the regime falls before we can get the full picture of what has been happening over this time, probably the most horrific period in Syria’s history.