4 min read

Participate in funerals or get arrested.

The Syria Justice and Accountability Center works to collect and document cases from different sources concerning the arrests and abductions of Syrian citizens. The center is highlighting some of these cases to demonstrate the systematic nature of these actions, to illustrate the center’s work, and to encourage other victims to testify, given the importance of testimony to any future justice and accountability processes in Syria.

This is the testimony of a retired schoolteacher who is over seventy years old. This was his third detention.

“During my return from the United Arab Emirates, when I was at the Damascus International Airport’s passport control desk, the passport officer told me that they must keep me as required by security. I had left Syria 45 days before, and there had been no indication that I was wanted.

“I am a retired teacher, a little over seventy, and this is my third experience of detention. I was arrested in the 1980s, and detained by the Political Security Branch last year. Then I was arrested again, two months ago, and detained in one of the Political Security Directorates in Damascus.

(Image based upon descriptions of torture. Source: Violations Documentation Center in Syria)

“They sent me to a room in which some of the seats were broken. The room was closed from the outside, and they called it the airport’s temporary detention room (Nazarah). They kept all of my papers, my ID, and my cell phone with them. After about two hours, an officer—who was a Major in the Immigration and Passport Police—told me that I was wanted by the State Security Intelligence in my city, and they had to send me to the General Directorate of Intelligence in Damascus, and from there they deported me back to the branch that called me. The officer, who seemed nice, expressed ignorance of the full reason for the summons—which did not exist a month ago!

“At midday, the Immigration and Passport Police handed me to the Air Force Intelligence’s patrol squad [who were] apparently responsible for airport security. They took me by bus to a small place I do not know, and asked me, in the meantime, to duck down and close the window blinds [I could not see where I was going]. I was able to figure out where the bus was going at the moment it left the Southern roundabout towards Kafr Sousa, [Damascus], the headquarter of the General Directorate of Intelligence. They took me down from the bus and handed me over to security agent door guards of one of the security branches. They kept me kneeling on the pavement, facing the wall, until they provided a car to take me to the [security] branch’s building—a trip which lasted about five minutes. I got out of the car [and was] surrounded by security personnel who ordered me not to look at anything and to only walk forward.  On both sides of the [security] branch’s door, another group of [security] elements were queued up, and took turns slapping me, punching me, and kicking me until I entered.  Then they searched me and took my ID and belongings and were slapping and punching me while searching me.

“Then the jailers escorted me to a cell about two meters in length and one meter wide. The one thing they requested of me was to sit cross-legged in the cell, facing the inner wall. There was a long row of cells and I could not [see] the end of them. My cell number was six. The routine was straightforward—every day from seven in the morning until eleven at night the door was opened for the detainee, who sat cross-legged with his face to the inner wall. During these 16 hours, fidgeting was not allowed, nor touching one’s knees, nor making contact with any part of the surrounding walls. We were naked, wearing only underpants, and speaking was forbidden altogether. The jailers passed though the solitary [cells] all the time. Those who broke from their sitting position were immediately punished with beatings by electric cables or by the plastic plumbing pipes that the jailers carried.  They always addressed the detainees with vulgar insults. The jailer was addressed with the word “sir.” Food was offered three times a day and the detainee’s share was two loaves of bread every day. They put asthma medication (I suffer from asthma) in front of the cell and I requested it from the warden who passes the medicine to the cells, but it was up to him to give me the medicine or not, and that depended upon how he was feeling that day. I was once prevented from using my medication for three days, and I fainted.

“On the sixth day they called me for investigation, the operation lasted about six hours, interspersed with beatings using four cables on my back and feet, and all kinds of insults. They threatened me with rape, and threatened to spread rumors in my town about me, at over seventy, being raped. They had no charges; they asked me about my previous detention and a few personal things. They beat me and increased their insults upon my confession that I had participated in a sit-in in front of the Palace of Justice in 2005! Finally, the interrogator wanted to end the suffering, so he told me that my charges were “not participating in the funerals of the dead regime fighters in my town”!

“I spent three weeks in jail and was released without being transferred to the court. I suffer from worsening asthma, and internal inflammation has prevented me from walking with my right foot.  I still do not know the branch in which I was detained!”