‘A hope to be reborn far from here’

by Conor Fortune

Syrian activist Bassam Ahmed Al-Ahmed recalls his time as a detainee alongside his friend, doctor Ayham Mustafa Ghazoul, whose family was recently informed of his death while in the custody of Syrian security forces in November 2012. Both men were among a group of people detained in a raid on the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression on 16 February 2012.

What more can I say about Ayham than that he was a human being before anything else?

What was most striking to me about him was that he was so self-sacrificing and strongly believed that every person should give up what’s most precious to them – their work, their studies, or even a lover or family members – for this revolution.

He was a very peaceful person who would always say, “Don’t carry a weapon, just go protest and if you die, you die a martyr”.

When they arrested us last February and brought us to the Air Force Intelligence we were all too scared to get off the bus.

They called out for Mazen Darwish, the director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression.

After he went down they asked for another person to come out and Ayham volunteered. I was shocked, thinking to myself, “How is this possible? How? Is he afraid of nothing?”

He was very cheerful during our imprisonment, always coming over and lessening our burden. He took on the role of our doctor, caring for us and our wellbeing, diagnosing our illnesses and telling us how to manage them.

The Fourth Division’s detention centre’s doctor was an idiot, so he would give Ayham medicine to give to heart patients regularly.

Ayham was subjected to the most abuse and beating in the Fourth Division.

Firstly it was because he was a doctor and they hated seeing someone more knowledgeable than themselves. Secondly, as he was from Deir ‘Atiyah, the man beating us would say “Deir ‘Atiyeh is the most beautiful area in Syria, why are you protesting?” Ayham would respond saying, “But my charge isn’t demonstrating,” and the man would go back to beating him.

Among my fellow detainees, he was the one I would talk to most – I would cry and say, “Is it possible that a day will come when we leave this grave?”.

Ayham would tease me, saying that our fellow detainees Hani [al-Zitani] and Mansour [al-Omari] would leave before me and I would remain in custody for another five months, and I would just cry some more.

After 33 days of imprisonment in the Fourth Division, and 33 more at the Air Force Intelligence detention centre, the assistant came and called for Ayham Mustafa Ghazoul. Though I was extremely tired, when I heard his name, Ayham, it rang in my ears and gave me hope to be reborn far from here.

Then they called for [another detainee] Joan Fersso I instantly began packing my clothes, for God had sent my soul a sign: Bassam, they will call you next.

Sure enough, they did.

Because of this, when they called out my friend’s name – Ayham Mustafa Ghazoul – it made me feel reborn, and gave me the sense that I was heading towards a new life.

After his release Ayham Mustafa Ghazoul was rearrested and subsequently died in custody.