Socialist Worker

Exclusive: Syrian torture victim speaks out

A Syrian who was tortured at the hands of Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime tells his story

Issue No. 2267

“I was a scholar, living in Britain on a scholarship from the Syrian government.

I went back to Syria in May to see family and to get an extension for my scholarship. But Syrian students spying for the regime had reported me to Syrian intelligence as someone who opposed President Assad.

I was asked in for questioning at my college in Damascus. I was asked to explain comments on my Facebook wall. They asked me why I opposed the regime, even though it had enabled me to study abroad. I was formally asked to attend for 2-3 hours at a time over two to three days.

Then I got a phone call from the dean of the college, who told me to come in and get my scholarship extension in person. I took a taxi and arrived at the main gate of the college where two men asked for my ID.

Suddenly four guards armed with Kalashnikovs approached. They pulled my jumper up to cover my eyes, took my hands behind my back and, in front of colleagues and students, kicked me and put me in a car.

As they drove off at speed one spoke on a mobile, saying ‘the bird is in the net’. I realised I was the target.

I was taken to the Al-Khatib internal intelligence branch—the branch headed by Hafez Makhlof, who is a cousin of the president. I was blindfolded and handcuffed. The officer in charge asked ‘who sent you to the UK to get a PhD? Do you think it was because you were the best student?’

He went on, ‘No, we sent you because President Assad and the Baath Party want you to get a PhD. So why are you opposing us? Why do you post these things on Facebook?’

All I said was that I was worried about how the army was responding to the protests. ‘It’s brutal,’ I said. As soon as I said the word I got my first slap, and I thought ‘this will not end soon’.

They then produced 25 pages of printouts of all my Facebook postings since the start of the uprising—all the time accompanied by punches, slaps and kicks.

They said I’d had dinner with the Saudi ambassador in London, that I had links with MI5. I told him I had no such links. I thought I might have to admit things to stay alive. I begged him. Please, I told him, I have a child, a wife—please don’t accuse me of such things.

Then guards took me two floors underground to a cell. There was some sort of light projector over my head shining in my eyes. I spent three days without sleep. Every time I tried to close my eyes a guard threw a bucket of water over me and shouted abuse.

There was no toilet in the cell. I was allowed out twice a day, at 7am and 7pm, to use the toilet and eat. They give you salty food so you feel thirsty, but I didn’t want to drink and have to pee on myself.

I was in complete isolation—but I could hear my neighbours being beaten.

Then after three days, the guards got me ready for the most common method of torture in Syria: being beaten on the soles of your feet.

They put you in a car tyre, and you’re turned like the letter U to be sat in the wheel, so you can’t move. Then they beat you with electricity cables bound together in a rubber sheath.

Cables

One cable was made up of 16 cables bound together. It was 5 to 10 cm thick. They put pins in the cable and beat with it. It was bulky and not easy to carry—it took two hands.

They gave me what is known as the ‘welcoming party’—15 whips on each foot. I couldn’t even cry or shout. It was if I had been sedated.

They said because I have a Blackberry phone with GPS, I could locate the position of demonstrators. They said MI5 must have given it to me.

I tried to deny it. But after the beating I admitted meeting those who are opposing the regime—though I still insisted that I have no links to MI5.

They wanted the names of Syrians in the UK who opposed the regime. After the beatings, I admit, I did gave names. But I only told them those they had already seen on Facebook.

One night they said ‘let’s talk about your wife’. They said because her profile picture on Facebook was black, it meant she was sad about what’s going on in Syria.

My wife, like me, is opposed to the regime.

They said to me, ‘We are going to rape your wife and mother in front of you, we are going to make your baby an orphan. We are going to blow up your brother’s future.’ They claimed my wife had asked for a divorce. They showed me a genuine letter signed by her.

After it was all over she told me they had taken her to court to ask for a divorce. If she didn’t comply the whole family would be under threat.

She was the only one who was told I was in prison. No one knew what had happened to me, whether I was alive or dead. I had just disappeared. She hoped that if she did what they wanted I would be released.

All the time I was suffering physical and psychological torture. I wanted to protect my family. I entirely collapsed.

The interrogators got what they wanted.

I started to confess relationships with opponents of the regime in the UK. I said I’d met Egyptians and Saudis who were against the regime.

One night I was moved to state intelligence headquarters—branch 285, headed by Ali Mamlouk. It’s well known in Syria. There is a saying about it: ‘the one who gets in is missed, the one who gets out is born again.’

I kept thinking of my family and what would happen to them. The physical and mental ill treatment I could cope with. But I kept thinking, are my family OK? My child was only a year and 9 months old.

I thought it was the end of my life. I was desperate. I thought it was goodbye to everything.

Guards

When we arrived, six or seven guards put me to the ground. They stripped me naked and made me kneel, to examine me and see if I was hiding anything sharp. They didn’t use their own names to each other— they used TV characters’ names. I was put into a car tyre again to receive 30 lashes on each foot.

The headquarters was receiving prisoners from all over Syria. They needed the isolation cells, so they wanted to finish the interrogation quickly. I spent 11 days in an isolation cell.

They took me to a new punishment room. They lifted up my blindfold so I could see a guy in an electric chair. I could hear screaming all around me. That was just to let me know the consequences of not cooperating.

They brought an electricity stick, to give me a quick stun to my shoulders. Others told me they used it on every sensitive area—tip of nose, under the arms, penis.

It started just like a game. ‘If we don’t get what we want we’ll move you to the electric chair,’ they told me.

They said they had a report stating I stayed in a hotel with Israeli intelligence officers while allegedly at a scientific conference in Greece. I yes I was in the hotel, but did not meet anybody but scientists. But when I felt there was no way to keep denying it, I admitted seeing some Americans and Canadians of Syrian origin who are opposing the regime. Just to stop them electrocuting me. Just to avoid that. The sound of the chair makes your heart stop.

One prison guard with a Kalashnikov used to put bullets in the chamber as he passed my cell. I thought, this is my end, no one knows where I am. I’m dead. Then he would walk away and laugh.

I was held there for 41 days. I have dignity, I am a scholar—but you become desperate. They said they wanted to get me because I was an educated man.

One guard was called the ‘father of the skulls’. He grabbed my hair and beat my head against the wall because he wanted to ‘crack open my skull and eat my brains’.

I heard many stories from many cities, all over Syria. I cried for the stories of others. Many confessed to crimes against the regime even though they were innocent. I know it’s been on TV, but to hear it from people day after day it really breaks the heart.

I will never forget—and I will never forgive the regime for what it did.

If the movement doesn’t win, the brutality of the regime will just increase. The Assad family have ruled for over 40 years, and 10 percent live in exceptional privilege over 90 percent of the population. We must win.”

After a total of 47 days he went to trial and spent one night in the court prison. He managed to bribe officials and was released. Shortly afterwards he fled to Britain, followed by his wife and son, and now feels safe. As soon as he and his wife escaped, the rest of his family fled to Dubai.


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International
Tue 30 Aug 2011, 17:11 BST
Issue No. 2267
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