Secret detention in Syria: “We could hear the screams of torture victims”

By Shappal Ibrahim, a Syrian Kurdish rights activist.

When Shappal Ibrahim, a peaceful activist with the Union of Young Kurds, was approached by a Syrian government official claiming to be a fellow supporter of the country’s “revolution”, he did not realize it was part of a ploy to detain him for his human rights activities. After agreeing to meet the official on 22 September 2011, he was driven away and detained in the city of Qamishli, his hometown. He was held in secret for nearly two years, one of Syria’s many “disappeared” before he was released as part of a presidential amnesty on 29 May 2013. It was only then he learned that on 5 September 2012 a court had sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Here, he tells his story of how he was treated in some of Syria’s many detention centres.

They beat us and insulted us when we entered the detention facility at one of the Damascus branches of Air Force Intelligence. We were beaten for hours and then thrown into jail – 13 men in a 2×2 metre cell. We had to take turns to sit down.

One by one, the detainees were called and taken to the interrogation room. Their screams filled the corridors as they were tortured.  People would come back wrapped in blankets stained with their blood.

They beat me with a cable and electrocuted me on my feet. They would not ask me anything specific; they just accused and insulted me, then they hit me in the face. They wanted me to sign a confession.

There was very little water and food available and we were only allowed to sleep when the prison guards allowed us to.

We were then transferred to another place in Bab Touma – which is also connected to Air Force Intelligence – and three months later to Saydnaya Military Prison near Damascus.

There, they had a system to break us down.

Food was so inadequate we were always hungry and they gave us only a few clothes even though the temperature was extremely cold.

They called me in for questioning many times and the torture was never-ending.

They would ask me to take off my clothes and then sprayed cold water on my body. Then the interrogator would walk on my body and hit me on my back and my feet.

In those difficult moments I was thinking of my three children, my wife, my parents, my friends and the revolutionary movement.

Despite my pains, wounds, illnesses and being cut off from my family, I could still feel the revolution within me and the enthusiasm ignite me again. The principles that brought me to that place are the same that caused me to feel hope and defiance and to not to give up.

In the year and eight months I was detained, I was only allowed one visit, 22 days before my release.

My younger brother Joan was able to see me for six minutes.

Then on 29 May 2013, one of the guards came to our cell and told me I would be released. I didn’t believe him, I thought I was going to be executed. The guards shaved my hair off and I was sure I was going to die. But then they just gave me my things and released me. I didn’t know why, I felt sheer disbelief.

When I arrived in my hometown Qamishli, many people were waiting for me. My friends carried me on their shoulders, they had prepared a reception where I gave a speech to the crowd. It was a moment of great significance to me. I felt like I was born again, and embraced my children and family and was filled with tears of joy.

I felt a great responsibility towards what I saw, and gathered my strength again, and promised myself that I’d dedicate my whole life so as not to let down my people.

Information was leaked to Syrian security once again of my continued activities so they sent me a threat, which prompted my family and my friends to request that I leave Syria.

I remain indebted to my friends and family for their tireless solidarity; they continued to push for my release, organize demonstrations to ensure my case was not forgotten.

This blog was originally published in the Huffington Post on August 29, 2014.

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