The testimonies of Syrian activists detained by security forces for taking part in anti-regime protests serve to expose another face of the horror that has been unraveling in the country since last March.
In addition to seeing their comrades killed under their very eyes, detainees are either brutally tortured or forced to make fabricated confessions or both. In any case, the result of what they all refer to as “the black times” is irreversible physical and psychological damages.
A university student from the northeastern city of Deir ez-Zor who was arrested for organizing protests in Damascus suffered severed injuries in his vertebral column and subsequent walking difficulties after he was tortured in the Air Fore Intelligence base in the capital. The student, who has been receiving physiotherapy since his release, said that he saw five of the detainees in his cell die.
“They were unable to breathe. Security forces placed 32 people in a cell designed for solitary confinement,” he told Al Arabiya.
Another young man from the governorate of Rif Dimashq in the southwest told a similar story when he said that more than 35 detainees were placed in a small cell.
“We had to take turns to sleep and it was impossible for any of the injured in those cells to get medical treatment.”
A third protestor who is originally from the Golan Heights but moved to Rif Dimashq said he sustained a serious injury in his shoulder.
“My left arm stopped moving and I am currently receiving physiotherapy.”
According to former detainees interviewed by Al Arabiya, the degree of torture differs from one detainee to the other, but many survivors might end up totally paralyzed.
What is striking, they added, is that most of the times security forces are aware that the detainees have no information to give out, but they keep torturing them as if it gives them pleasure to do so.
Marwa al-Ghimian, the first female detainee since the start of the Syrian revolution and who was arrested on March 15 and detained in the Political Security headquarters, was brutally beaten by security forces.
“They hit me on the head with a table and dragged me by the hair. They kicked me and banged my head against the wall. All that while cussing and calling me names.”
After being released, Ghimian was arrested for a second time and placed in solitary confinement in a small cell that she described as a “box” in the Military Security headquarters.
“It was a very cold place and I spent a whole week alone there totally isolated from the outside world.”
Another detainee from the city of Darayya in Rif Dimashq said he suffers from convulsions in the middle of his sleep as a result of the torture to which he was subjected in the Air Force Intelligence base in Damascus.
“The sounds of other people screaming around while being tortured have also been haunting me in my dreams,” said the activist, who was accused of transferring money from officials in Arab countries to protestors in Syria.
An army officer, who was arrested after refusing to shoot at protestors, said he was placed in a small cell with 30 other detainees and all of them listened to the screams of torture all the time.
“They put their shoes in our food and sometimes they spat in it,” he said in earlier statements to Al Arabiya.
He added that security officers would keep knocking on the doors of their cells all the time to make sure they did not get any rest or sleep.
“I was also placed in a suspended iron cage for days and was always given the impression that I was going to be killed any minute.”
Not all those tortured managed to survive, though, for hundreds were tortured to death throughout the past few months based reports issued by the Syrian Revolution General Commission.
According to the commission, 204 people, including one woman and eight children died in Syrian detention centers since the start of the revolution.
The commission’s report stated that security forces use a variety of torture methods, the most common of which is electrocution, breaking bones and teeth, and gouging eyes—the last was specifically done with an activist who used to take pictures of the regime’s brutal practices against civilians. This, the report added, is besides stealing the organs of dead activists.
According to the report, out of the killed activists, 112 come from the city of Homs, 22 from Damascus and Rif Dimashq, 19 from Idlib, 12 from Hama, five from Deir ez-Zor, three from Aleppo, three from Latakia, and one from Jebleh.
The report stated that some of the activists who are still detained are tortured on daily basis and that sometimes the torture would last for 24 hours.
According to activists, most of the charges leveled against detainees are fabricated and have nothing to do with what they really do.
An activist from Rif Dimashq said he was accused of belonging to al-Qaeda and planning a series of bombings in his hometown. Meanwhile, a dissenting officer was charged with infiltrating the Syrian army for the purpose of carrying out terrorist operations.
In the same vein, a telecommunication engineer in Damascus was accused by the Political Security bureau of receiving money from foreign countries to organize a coup in Syria.
“They forced me to make televised statements about receiving money from abroad and coordinating with several media outlets to circulate false news about Syria,” he said.
Several former detainees were similarly forced to do confess to planning terrorist operations and spreading rumors about the Syrian regime.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)