The Horror Of Assad's Regime's Prison: Interview With A Ex-Detainee   

Juamda-Al-Awwal 14, 1434 A.H, Wednesday, March 27, 2013

One of the prisons of the Syrian regime. photo: Global Post

By the will of Allah, the Amanah of Indonesia for Syria (SA2Syria) Team assisted the evacuation of two families of Palestinian refugees out of the city of Aleppo. In one of the families, the head of the family still walks unsteadily as the marks of tortures in both of his legs had not recovered fully.

Let us just call the man Utsman, 39 years old, recently released from the prison of the intelligence headquarters of Syria in Aleppo, two weeks before the meeting with the SA2Syria Team. His face is sunken. His cheek bones are bulging out. His oversized hat and winter jacket made his appearance look like a person who is terminally ill. Luckily, the lights in his eyes and his smiles never stop surfacing.

The Fushah (original/common/standard) Arabic language of Utsman is perfect, with the dialect of Palestinian mixed with Syrian. Throughout his adult life in the Al-Nairab refugee camp, in the outskirts of Aleppo, Utsman has been a humanitarian worker whose foundation helped the needs of the Palestinian refugees in that camp.

His late father earlier left Palestine to take refuge in Syria. Utsman is one of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians-Syrians. Originally Palestinian, but was born in Syria, and dreams of returning to the liberated Palestine.

Unfortunately, even among the Palestinian refugees, there are those who choose to join and support the regime of Assad, since the onset of the Revolution, exactly two years ago. It is these people who are spreading terror and fear among their fellow Palestinian refugees.

Therefore, although he is already released from prison, Utsman must be evacuated from the refugee camp, for the sake of his safety and his family's.

This interview with Utsman was done in a place of hiding in the middle of the city of Aleppo, a day after Utsman and his family, as well as another family, were successfully evacuated from the Al-Nairab camp, which until now is still surrounded by the forces of Assad's regime.

While waiting for the moments, our Team accompany these two families leaving Syria, Utsman was willing to tell about his story of being held and tortured for 3 months in the prison of Assad's regime.

“But don't write down my real name, do not show the photo of my face, and do not publish this interview before I go out Syria…,” the terms from him, which were immediately agreed by us.

The Prison Baby

Utsman is the father of four children. His latest child was born when he was in jail. The baby was put down near us, who are in the middle of interviewing the father. The baby is 1 month old, wrapped tightly with a blanket. The winter was still biting in Aleppo. Whereas, electricity had been dead for four months across the city, because the power plant was controlled by the regime forces.

Outside of our hiding place, thumping sounds of the bombs, mortars and the rattle of firearms sounded almost endlessly. This place is indeed only 500 meters away from the line of battle between the Jaishul Hurr (Free Syria Army) and the forces of the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

Amazingly, the other three children of Utsman, and two children from the other family were playing cheerfully around us, as if there was no war.

Occasionally, their ravings and laughter's stopped, if they heard the sound of the bombs sounding close enough. But a second later they were noisy again, running around, telling stories, singing. Subhanallah… Glory Be To Allah Who creates resilience in the hearts of these children.

Facilitating The Government Hospital

Utsman began his story with BismillaahirRahmaanirRahiim… Alhamdulillaah, as well as Salawat to Rasulullah.

“Imprisoned for defending the truth is something that is bequeathed by the prophets, so this is something that actually is normal,” he said.

Utsman was arrested on 14th October 2012. At that time, he was just out of the hospital that was available in the Al-Nairab refugee camp. This camp is located in the outskirt of Aleppo, near a Syrian military air base.

Utsman had just delivered the aid of medical devices, such as oxygen bottles, breathing assistance devices, medical status monitors and others.

This is a government hospital under the regime of Assad. So according to his reckoning, helping that hospital would not cause a problem for himself.

Once getting out of the hospital, Utsman was approached by someone who turned out to be an intelligence apparatus of the Assad's regime. Utsman was asked to follow him to their HQ for interrogation.

“I was willing to follow him, feeling only normal. Never thought I would be detained, because I did not feel that I did anything that was against the regime openly,” said Utsman.

Although since the previous year, when the people's resistance against Assad's regime already had gotten very heated, the name of Utsman had been circulating on the internet connected with three things: First, he was accused of gathering people to join the revolution.

Second, he was accused of handing over the names of the residents of Al-Nairab camp who were suspected as Shabihah (phantom forces, fanatic supporters of Assad) to the Jaishul Hurr.

Third, he was suspected of giving humanitarian assistance to members of the Jaishul Hurr and their families, whether they were in the regime's prison or were still free.

It was those three things that were delved deeply by his interrogators when he was probed. After being questioned for about 1.5 hour, Abu Umar was pronounced detained and was taken to the military airport in Aleppo. There, he was held in an underground jail for four days, without seeing the sun.

 Imprisoned Syrians in the prison of Assad's regime in Tadmur or Palmyra. Photo: MRadwan

Just The Beginning 

It turned out that those four days were only a tiny bit compared to what would be experienced by Utsman for the next three months. At that time, he completely did not know how long he would be held, and whether he would live or die after the detention.

After four days, he was dragged and transported by a military helicopter, with the hands handcuffed backward and blindfolded. Before he was blindfolded, he had a chance to see, that there were 12 others who would be transported along with him. Eight Syrians, four Palestinian refugees. Throughout the flight, they were beaten by the soldiers who guarded them.

He only found out later that they were flown to the largest intelligence headquarters in the Northern part of Syria, near Aleppo too. They had to be flown in by helicopter because the areas that must be traveled by land had started to be controlled by the Jaishul Hurr.

It was in that helicopter that the real savagery began. After a few minutes of flying while continually beaten and kicked, the twelve prisoners were one by one thrown out of the helicopter.

They thought they would be killed by being dropped from a height. Apparently, they were pushed from a height of only 1 to 1.5 meters from the land, still in a state of being handcuffed backward and blindfolded, only to terrify.

From the helicopter landing field, they were herded into the intelligence headquarters building. Once inside, they were right away forced to get nude, screamed at while being interrogated.

After being told to get clothed again, Abu Umar was put into a cell which only measures 4×6 meters. The cell contained not less than 80 people. Yes, 4×6 meters for 80 people.

 According to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Prison, a cell with a measurement of 4×5 meters can only be occupied by a maximum of 5 detainees (left). Whereas, in the prisons of the Syrian military intelligence, a cell with that measurement was forced to be occupied by 70 people. Info graphic: Business Insider

Three Months

He was detained there for three months. During that three months, the number detainees in the cell did not reduce but increased instead, until finally it reached 110 detainees.

“Because of the extreme narrowness of our cell, for us to be able to rest, we took turns changing our body position,” explained Utsman, “For 12 hours, each person can get a ration of 4 hours of standing, 4 hours of sitting and 4 hours of lying down.”

The time of lying down also does not mean to lie down perfectly, the knees must be half bent and above that knees was already other people's head who was also lying down. The situation was really beyond the limits of humanity.

The first month in the cell, Utsman and the other occupants of the cell were living and sleeping in the bare cell, no floor covering, only the floor. At that time, the weather was still the last part of summer. So the coldness of the floor was not that very painful yet. That October, the climate was still temperate, although they did not see the sun at all.

After a month being held in the cell, Utsman and the other occupants of the cell were given army blankets that were rough and ugly, even those could not be used as blankets because all those rags could only be used as floor coverings.

So all detainees in Abu Umar's cell went through the winter, that was close to 0 degrees, without a blanket at all.

The Prison Food 

The prisoners' feeding rations was only two meals a day, and it ever happened that for ten days it was only one meal.

What are the food?

“Per meal, we were only given half a bread, or two third, or infrequently a whole bread, plus a piece of boiled potato the size of an eighth of an apple. That's all, for three months,” said Utsman.

For drinking water, we were given five kettles for 80 people, which were passed around and asked to be drunk by a little sip.

“When I recall that sight again, it was truly like the sight in the slave trade in the past,” Utsman said softly.

If one day, there was salt given, according to Utsman it would be recived by the occupants of the cell like a big party. “As if it's 'Eidul Fitri or 'Eidul Adha,” said Utsman. As far as he remembers, they were given salt for only twice during the three months. The same goes with slices of egg.

According to Utsman, for ten days in the three months, the prisoners were not given bread at all, only boiled potatoes about the size of three fingers.

To the toilet? You'd have to get badly bruised first. 

The extraordinarily narrow cell was not equipped with a toilet at all. So they could only go to the toilet if they ask for permission. If there was a prisoner requesting to go to the toilet, even if he was finally permitted out of the cell, he must get ready to face punishments. Once the one requesting was passing through the door of the cell, he was right away beaten and kicked while walking toward the toilet.

Urination and defecation should not be done in the position of sitting or squatting. It had to be done standing. If one was caught of sitting or squatting, he would be right away beaten. Washing or istinja’ was allowed, but after washing they were forbidden to wash hands at the tap. If one was caught of washing hands at the tap, he would be beaten severely.

“So one must know how to wash the hands while pretending to do istinja’…” said Utsman.

Can we imagine for a moment…

The prisoners of the Assad regime in the prison didn't see the sun for months, 80 people were put together in one cell measuring 4×6 meters, with a very bad air circulation, sleeping without floor covering, or with bare coverings, never showered at all, the beard and moustache were not shaven at all, undernourished, urination and defecation that were not properly done, and it happened continuously for 24 hours during the three months, for sure there were a lot of infectious diseases, especially skin diseases.

A form of torture as reported by the Human Rights Watch, that was also suffered by Utsman. illustration: Business Insider

Interrogation = Torture 

Every time there was a prisoner who was summoned for questioning, he had to suffer sadistic tortures that left behind wounds. And those wounds would not be treated.

Besides that, Abu Umar counted, for 3 months, he and his cell mates were subjected to 10 mass tortures inside the cell.

Among the forms of mass tortures were, all the 80 people were forced to stand as close to each other and the wall as possible. The bodies of those 80 people were closely packed together making it difficult to breathe. They were forced to maintain that position for hours while being screamed at. Those who could not hold out and let go or fell from the pack, would be beaten severely. 

There were some people who were forced to put their arms and bodies close to the wall for hours. If due to weariness they lowered their arms or let go of their bodies off the wall, they would be right away beaten.

There were 5-6 people who were to forced to lie down on their stomach and then their legs were beaten until they were wounded.

There was a businessman who was already old, from his appearance he seemed to be a rich and respectable person. He was in the same cell as Abu Umar. He was ill and asked permission to go the toilet for bowel movements.

“Poor him.. once the cell door was opened, instead of letting him go to the toilet, he was beaten all out till he defecated in his pants…,” Utsman remembered.

The Peak of Winter 

When winter peaked early in the month of January, imagine 110 people in a cell which only measures 4×6 meters with no blanket. Their breaths emitted vapor. So much vapour came out through the small ventilator, that even the prison warders thought that fires had broken out, due to the thickness of the vapor from the breath that came out like smoke.

There was absolutely no compassion and humanity among those warders. Utsman believes that 99% of those warders who tortured them for three months were the people of Nusairiyah-‘Alawiyah (Shi'ah).

For three months Utsman was not interrogated at all. Whereas in theory, an interrogation is the only way for the prisoners to be possibly free.

“Although each one of those interrogated was always tortured severely,” Utsman explained, “I though it would be better for me to be interrogated, anyway I really never did what they accused me of. So I thought, let them torture me until they get tired, hopefully they would finally free me.”

After constantly asking, Utsman was eventually interrogated. Again and again he was asked about the three things that were charged on him. Utsman told them, “I am an ordinary Palestinian refugee, nothing to do with this revolution.”

“We Palestinians, are few in number and our goal is only to free our country, Palestine. We finally will also go back to Palestine. Throughout my whole life in Syria, I also never steal or get involved in crimes, and all the duties as Palestinian refugees in Syria have always been fulfilled by us.”

His interrogator said like this, “You don't need to be a pretentious nationalist. We know all your life history. We also know that you are a Hamas volunteer. We know who Hamas is… Traitor. We used to help them, but now they don't want to help our ruler…”

And then I was tortured. For hours, the soles of my feet were struck continuously with a hard object made of silicone. Every time they were struck, what's affected was the whole front part of the bones of the soles and then the beating device right away darted smiting his shin.

“Look at this…” Utsman took off his socks and showed both soles. “At the time I was out of the prison, it was blackened, full of blood clot…”

A big part of the skin of both soles are now exfoliating. There were still marks of previous wounds in both shins.

According to Utsman, the purpose of the torture was to force himself to admit the alleged three things.

He was also forced to attach the body to the wall while both hands tied to the window for God knows how many hours, he could not remember because he fainted many times. As a result, for almost a week, both the thumbs, forefingers and middle fingers were numb.

Marks of tortures showed by Utsman after having managed to leave Syria. photo: Sahabat Al-Aqsha | Sahabat Syria

Still Alhamdulillah

“Alhamdulillah, Allah gave me sabr, enduring all those tortures for three months, to the point that when I was tortured during interrogation, I did not admit anything. I am sure my patience in not admitting them, by the permission of Allah, had sped up by freedom,” said Utsman.

Because, still according to Utsman, there were some people who actually did not do whatever was alleged by the intelligence apparatus of Assad, but they were heavily tortured. And then they were promised freedom if they admit, but once admitting, they were not freed but instead were tortured even more heavily and their period of imprisonment were extended.

Shortly after the heavy interrogation, Utsman was freed. At midnight in the winter, he was thrown out from a car, exactly in the place where he was found by the intelligence apparatus who then took him three months ago.

Both his neighbours and family could not recognize him. Because he lost almost of half of his body weight, smelling bad. With his hair, beard and moustache, he looked lime someone who had been stranded in a deserted island for months.

Alhamdulillah, Allah willed that Utsman is gathered again with his family.

It is time for him to depart now, soon as this interview is done, Utsman and his family, as well as another family, and the SA2Syria Team would penetrate the border leaving this country that had once been blessed by Allah… But now is ravaged by the wrath of its ruler.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights Documentation, since March 2011 until the end of January 2013, the regime of Assad have been imprisoning and torturing not less than 194,000 citizens of Syria. Various forms of tortures and details of the number of victims of the sadism of the regime in prison can be read again in the report that have been published by this Sahabat Syria.

In shaa Allah, we will never forget you, brothers and sisters in Syria, whether you are outside the prison, or still inside the prisons enduring the severity of the tortures.

May Allah lighten your sufferings in the day and night, and speed up the victory for you in the dunya and Akhirah.

Forgive us… Forgive us…

Translated and Submitted by a Mujahid