Every 2-3 days a chain like mine arrives in the prison and a similar number of victims die from torture. Killing people in Sednayah is a usual practice.
August 25, 2020
Source: The Association of Detainees and The Missing in Sednaya Prison
Before starting my story, I would like to beg any one who can do any thing to help the detainees in the prisons of the regime not to hesitate to do his best to relieve them from the hell in which they live. The situation of the detainees in Syrian prisons is unbearable. It is true that the Syrian regime is bombing and killing the Syrians, but this is only part of the atrocities practiced inside the prisons where unbelievable ways and means of torture are used. Horrible ways of punishment, no human mind can ever imagine. I hope to convey the reality to you hoping no one would accuse me of exaggeration, because, really, it is difficult to convince you that what I am saying is real facts and not fantasy. Believe me, all what we, the detainees, said and will say will not portray the pains we had suffered in these pieces of hell.
Arrest and Interrogation:
I was a little over sixteen years old, immediately after passing the exams of the secondary stage, average 90%, when I was arrested by one of the check points. My father had raised me on a special way of life: School in winter, and an institute of learning the Quran in summer vacation. My knowledge of the outer world was, zero. I participated in the demonstrations against the regime in our region, but I have never used weapon nor have known how to use them. Because many of my relatives had participated in the armed opposition, I was arrested on August 27, 2014.
I was transferred to the branch of the military intelligence in my governorate where they accused me of charges, I have never heard of before: shooting two check points of the regime, planting an explosive charge, and attempt to assassinate an officer. I had no knowledge of any of these charges but arbitrary arrest is very common in Syria: either because the soldier on the check point did not like me or because of a fake report written by an informer to one of the security services for personal purposes. Two thirds of those whom I had met in the prisons had no activities in the revolution, neither in the demonstrations nor in military actions. The only armed men I have met were the few Shabiha who were fighting in the militias of the regime and were arrested. I had rarely met any of the opposition armed men in the prisons of the regime.
In the intelligence branch, the jailer ordered me: “Take off your clothes,” I took off the T Shirt, he ordered me to take off the trousers, I did. He ordered me to squat the military way of which I had no idea. He started shouting: “squatting, squatting” and I don’t know what to do. He started beating me saying: “you shout in my face!” and continued beating me. He ordered me to take off my underwear, but I didn’t realize if he meant it really. It was strange and unacceptable to me, but, at the end I responded because of the intense beating. I was very shy to reveal my private parts to strangers, while he was busy inspecting my clothes.
Then, he led me to a place in the basement I realized it was a cell, there were two persons there before me, one for 47 days, the other for 13 days. The cell was 150 cm long and 1 m wide, at the end of which there was a tap and a toilet hole. There was also a multipurpose bowl. It was used for food, for water and for cleaning one’s self after visiting the toilet. For two days I couldn’t eat of this bowl, but in the third day I understood that there was no other choice, and started, obliged, to use it.
While I was waiting my turn for torture, in the first days in the cell, I heard the voice of a woman being tortured, begging the interrogator: “for God’s sake sir… I shall never repeat it again.” After a while I heard another woman shouting. My flesh shuddered, adrenaline level jumped in my blood, I was eager to do anything to help. When they took me to be tortured, I didn’t care for myself as much as I was thinking of the women. When they returned me back to the cell, I told my friends about what I had heard with utmost agitation. They smiled and told me that the number of detained women is about half the number of detained men. Later I used to see the women being led by the jailers to the W.C. once a day, always running to avoid the beating of the jailers, to convince myself that me, being in the prison, is nothing beside those women. Torture was less annoying to me than the idea of the possibility that one of these women being tortured and humiliated in this way be a relative of mine.
The following day I was summoned for interrogation. I denied all the charges against me. At the beginning the interrogator tried to convince me to confess without beating. In the second session he slapped me a little, but in the third session he lost patience, started beating me with sticks, with PVC tubes, and with two kinds of whips, the first an electric wire and the second is part of a tire. He tortured me by beating me on the feet, by electric shocks, by suspension and by the wheel while I was blinded and my hand tied behind me. One day, the interrogator ordered a soldier to take away the blind off my eyes. I was totally exhausted, couldn’t see where I was, dizzy, and totally strained. “Look at your right.” The interrogator ordered me. There was a man they had started torturing him before me. “Do you see him?” he asked. “Yes sir, I see him” I replied. “He is dead!!” I was shocked. His body was swollen result of torture, so was mine, stained with the colors of rainbow, blue, red, green and yellow.
The interrogator said: “You either lay down beside him and die, or you confess.” That was after ten days of my arrest. I was young and delicate, never practiced any hard work, from home to school, and from school to my home. At the beginning I decided to be solid hearted and not confess, but when I saw this man, I yielded down and decided to confess to avoid death. They may detain me for some months and then they will set me free to join my family who know nothing about me.
I confessed all the charges I heard him saying unaware of what I said. He was pleased, ordered me food and water. I thought the circle of torture was finished and he will refer me to a habitual prison, but they returned me back to the cell. After two hours. At mid night, he ordered me back to the interrogation room. “you confessed that you had attacked so and so checkpoint, and you had planted an explosive charge.” “yes sir, I did” I replied feeling relaxed for avoiding torture, but he surprised me: “Now tell me… how did you do that and with whom?” I had no answer, I felt obliged to fabricate a story which will not expose me to a great legal punishment. I told him that we, young boys, were put in the lines behind the armed men, filling bullets but not firing. Had I told him that I had fired on the army soldiers he would have killed me in place.
In the Baloni Prison
After two or three days, they took me out of the branch’s prison. On the road to Damascus there was a temporary detention center dubbed al-Baloni. Here, there was no severe torture, only a few lashes at the entrance. We stood in a row to deliver our personal items to be kept as deposits, which, in my case, was only my identity card because the money I had when they arrested me had already evaporated. One soldier was writing our personal data on a paper, a huge Alawite officer with thick moustaches standing beside him. He asked me my name, I told him. “what is your crime? You are still young. What did you do?” I started replying: “Ustaz I didn’t…” (Ustaz in Arabic means teacher). He interrupted me: “What? What did you say? Repeat, repeat.” Again, I said: “Ustaz…” the soldier poked me advising me to tell the officer, Sir.” I didn’t know that the word “Ustaz” has a connotation of humiliation in the Syrian army. I had in mind the opposite, I thought I was honoring him. I tried to apologize repeating the word Ustaz every now and then. He ordered me to sit in the corner. Later he approached me and started cursing me with words I had never heard all my life, words that can not occur to a human being, and started beating me on every part of my body. Two soldiers came. “Yes sir…What did he do.” They asked. He ordered them: “Beat him …he is saying, Ustaz, to his master.” They started beating me using improper Alawite words, they seemed they were not Alawites. I can not forget that day, I was a school student and used to repeat the word “Ustaz” for respect!
In the Branches of Damascus
Two of my detention colleagues supported me and helped me enter the dormitory of the Baloni prison, totally debilitated. We remined there for ten days, then we were referred to the military police in Qaboun, and afterwards to Palestine Branch. Where ever they take the prisoner, there is always a reception party, a primary torture session which increases in severity according to the importance and level of the security branch. Nudity and squatting are habitual performances repeated in every branch. We were introduced to “Lakhdar Brahimi” a PVC green pipe dubbed so after the UN envoy to Syria.
The “reception party” in Palestine branch was the hardest. They entered us, 95 prisoners, tied to one iron chain. Three of us were killed in the reception. Food was relatively sufficient here. Which means that every one of us can have 2-3 loaves of bread daily, and they beat us daily in order not to believe that we are here just to eat. They used to enter the dormitory every week or ten days and beat us all, or take us individually or two to three of us out to beat bee beaten and return us for no reason.
After that, I was referred to Branch 248 of the military intelligence. There, we had a reception party, after which we were not beaten. We had hope of being set free. One day, they called names, I was one of them. We were about 100. They tied us to one chain with one of the cuffs on the wrist and the other connected to the chain.
They put us in the fridge, a closed vehicle with high small window lets through which light and air get in. We looked from the window to know where they were taking us. One of us, who used to live in Damascus and knows its roads said: “Guys…May God help us” We asked him why, he said: “We are on the road to Sednayah.” I haven’t heard of the name before. I asked: “What is Sednayah?” More than one of them said together: “Now you will see what is Sednayah.” They started invoking God they put us in the White Building. I did not understand anything, neither what is Sednayah, nor what is the white or red building! I saw marks of fear on the faces of the other prisoners wondering why the fear after what we have experienced? I asked them. One of them said: “For how long have you been detained? what are the branches you have visited?” When I told him, he said: “You better consider the period of your imprisonment and the branches you have visited a picnic with your family.” He thrilled me… and continued: “What you have seen is no more than a picnic compared with what you will see in the place we are going to.” My heart fell in my chest and I started praying God to help me.
In Sednayah; the Reception
When we got out of the fridge, they ordered us to take off our clothes totally nude, to hold the waist of the person in front, to bow and put our foreheads on his back in a way not to see any of the soldiers. In the security branches they used to blind our eyes, but here they didn’t. We were like a train of one hundred persons, the first thing we did was climbing high stairs. We found ourselves in a large hall in the center of which there was a desk to receive the deposits of the new comers.
In Sednayah, the reception was exceptionally horrible. Who survives it will be able to continue living in this hell? There, I knew the “Harawaneh,” a hose of compressed silicone originally used to solder plastic items. The Harawaneh is neither sharp to wound nor solid to break bones, but it either kills the person immediately or causes him an unusual pain, more than any other tool of torture.
I was nearly at the end of the queue to handle my deposits. Beating did not stop. I discovered later that this just an introduction. During handling the deposits real beating starts, after that, the prisoner faces a wall, prostrates on the ground with his body uncovered to the jailers, 15-20 of them, started beating him all together, until a new prisoner comes to be beaten in turn and so on.
I was the youngest of those cuffed to the chain, some of them were in their fifties or sixties. When my turn approached to the deposits desk, two soldiers with Harawanas asked me my age, I told them I was born in 1997. They said: “What brought you here in this young age? What did you do?” I told them I did nothing and I am here by mistake. My face was to the ground since it is totally forbidden to look at any of the jailers or look right or left, so I did not see them. In Sednayah if you see the face of a Jailer, it means death. They asked me about my story. I told them the details having in mind that they will sympathize with me due to my young age. They told me: “Get out of the queue and give us your envelope.” I stood aside, and gave them the envelop of the deposits. They ordered me to raise my hands up and open my legs wide, they started cursing me and beating me on my genitals. They hit my penis seven times with the Harawaneh. I will never forget that. With the first hit I felt I was going to die, and wished they would kill me to get rid of that horrific pain.
Sometimes, in the branches of security, crying, asking for help, signs of fatigue or of repentance may help. Here in Sednayah they give opposite reactions. When they saw that my body began to shiver involuntarily, they increased beating me.
Tools of beating in Sednayah are: The Harawaneh, the metal pipe, the belt of a tank’s motor which removes the skin, and the quadruple cable, made of two pairs of brass cables wound together. When they beat with either of them you feel that your body had lost senses, you stop feeling pain until the torture party finishes, your body calms down and you restore your senses.
The “reception party” in Sednayah continued for 4-5 hours. Of the one hundred prisoners who arrived with me, not less than fifteen were killed.
Every 2-3 days a chain like mine arrives in the prison and a similar number of victims die from torture. Killing people in Sednayah is a usual practice.
To the Solitary Cells
When they finished beating us, they pulled the bodies of the dead prisoners aside and shouted: “UP UP…Train…Train…Train.” We did it the same as we had done it the first time. The jailer directed the first prisoner in the train, we descended the stairs, my genitals were swollen due to beating. I felt strong pain to walk, descending the stairs was painful, especially the jailers were on both side of the stairs beating us relentlessly. We descended 3-4 levels underground. We arrived in solitary cells, in front of each there was a jailer entering a number of the prisoners in.
The cells area was 3 * 3.5-4 m each. Inside every one there was a toilet. We were 28 prisoners. My testicles swell and I couldn’t walk, sit, or even stand. It was very, very difficult to bear.
Each one of us had an area of one tile to sit on, so we alternated standing and sitting. We were nude, crowded and attached to each other. I begged those near me to understand my problem. Three of them stood to allow me stretch my legs apart. The cell was always dark with only a red small lamp hardly the 28 prisoners can see faces of each other.
We remained for two days without food or water. In the third day they brought us water and gave, all of us, one loaf and a half of bread and 15 olives. We were starving. We didn’t know how to divide this strange meal on this number of persons. Every two shared an olive. We distributed the bread. Every one had a morsel. Some of us ate, the others didn’t. I was busy of my pain which did not stop aching me in my sleep, standing or sitting. The following day our share was three or four loaves of bread. The day they bring us a small bowl of rice, hardly seven or eight spoons, they deprive us of bread.
For each cell they appoint a prefect. The jailer enters the cell, selects one of the prisoners randomly and appoints him a prefect, orders him to kneel on his knees, face to the wall, and starts beating him until he is unable to stand. He forces him to raise himself up and tell him that he is appointed prefect of the cell, lists to him the instructions he should follow other wise he will kill him if he violates them. In short, the prefect is designated dead.
One prisoner in the cell next to ours, used to shout continuously because he lost control on his mind. We dubbed him (al-Fasel) “the disconnected.” One day the jailor followed his shouting, asked prefect of the cell: “Who is shouting” and the answer was al-Fasel. Jailers in Sednayah call prefects of cells (Arsat) “pimps.” The jailer told the prefect: “Look Arsa, If I hear his voice after five minutes, you will die or both of you will die.” The prefect understood that he will die definitely if he couldn’t silence this lunatic. He held the neck of al-Fasel, twisted it, and killed him. When the jailer returned in the evening, he asked the prefect about al-Fasel. He replied: “It’s ok, he is finished.” I couldn’t imagine that things like this could happen between prisoners. The prefect killed a man to survive. The jailer admired the prefect and raised his voice so that all the prisoners can hear him: “You pimps…listen to me. It was planned you stay in these cells for 25-30 days. Tomorrow morning, we will take you out of them as a reward to this prefect.”
In the Dormitory
By so, we had spent only thirteen days in the cell. They took us to a large dormitory, ten meters long and six meters wide, with a bath room. The dormitory was clean as if not used before. We found in it some detergents which were very necessary after the long days in the cell. In the dormitory I started to walk and do some exercises, my genitals started to recover gradually.
In the first four days in the dormitory, they didn’t bring us any foods! We lived on water. We saw no body. In the morning of the fifth day they brought us breakfast: Bread and a bowl of olives, each one of us had two and a half olives.
We were 35 prisoners in the dormitory, which I knew later, this was the largest number of prisoners usually they put in a dormitory. We were 28 from our cell, they brought seven prisoners from another cell including the prefect who killed a prisoner to survive. He was young, with long hair. I forgot his name but I still remember that he was from al-Fuah, of Idlib. He was a Shabih in Damascus, free to do whatever he wants until he differed with his superior and was brought to Sednayah prison.
When the jailer cam in to select prefect to the dormitory, we knelt on our knees, faces to the walls opposite of the door. We were two lines, the jailer selected the same prisoner, took him from among us, beat him three times so he could hardly speak. “you ass hole, you are pimp of the dormitory.” He started giving him the instructions: “Any voice heard or violation committed in the dormitory you will be punished.”
The new prefect started bullying and even beating us. One day one of the jailers hated to see his long hair, warned him to have it cut in two days or he will die. We couldn’t understand how the prefect will have his hair cut with nothing to cut in the dormitory, no scissors, no knife or any sharp tool. The warning was serious, so the prefect started to pluck his hair, feeling pain but unable to cry. The jailer reminded him of his punishment every time he visited the dormitory.
In the following morning, only some hair was plucked from his head. Our feelings were confused. He is a Shabih and had killed one of his mates, al-Fasel, and tried to humiliate us and harm us., but, at the same time, he was a soul among us. We hoped they would punish him in a way or another but not to kill him. One of us suggested cutting a piece of ceramic in the bathroom and use it to cut his hair. He accepted, started to beat the ceramic with his fist until it bled, but in vain. We, started one after another to help him, including me although I hated him. Fists of many of us swelled until a small piece was broken. They started shaving his head, feeling pain, but dares not moan. Because he couldn’t moan, he started weeping. He was saved from death and changed his treatment towards us.
That was the seventh day in the dormitory. Tomorrow, they will beat us for the first time here. It was about one o’clock after midnight when they started to beat all the prisoners of the prison, from the first dormitory in the first floor to the last dormitory in the third floor. This method was called the “wheel” because it runs on all parts of the prison, contrary to the punishment of a ward or dormitory only. When beating started, we heard horrific sounds. We started invoking God they finish those before us and come to us to get rid of this nightmare. We were in the 7th. dormitory of the second floor. When they arrived in our floor we had to wait until they have finished the first, the second….so on to the 7th dormitory! We died one hundred times just from hearing the cries of the prisoners.! At last they came in. I can not describe the beating, but all I can say is that they ended it with two of us dead. In future times five, six or even seven prisoners may die in a ten minutes party.
The following day we informed the jailers of those who died to take their copses out. In our dormitory we know of the corpses of other dormitories from the past night: five in the first dormitory, three from the second… and so on. Gradually, we started to know the regime of the prison, we will be beaten two or three times weekly, and every time someone must die. Every time the number of prisoners decrease, they bring new ones. Arrival of prisoners has no end.
At the beginning, we ate singly, until we discovered the system of the “Sofra.” Dormitory prisoners are divided into groups, each one is headed by a prisoner known as head of the sofra. He receives the food of his group from the prefect of the dormitory and divide it on the members of his group. As I said, we were thirty-five prisoners, divided ourselves to seven sofras, each one had five prisoners. Prefect of the dormitory had to divide the food they bring us into seven shares, one for each sofra.
After some time in Sednayah, we forgot the outer world, our families, even why we are here. We acclimatized with beating, the only obsession we had is when we will have food. We lived in hunger, lost a lot of our weights which we succeeded in preserving them in the prisons of the security branches.
One day, we discovered that the prefect and another prisoner who used to help him take shares of food larger than what usually used to have. We quarreled with them, our voices were loud, the jailers came in and sked about the source of the noise, they were told from our dormitory. A group of 10-15 jailers entered and started beating us. We were nude.
While beating us they cursed us because we were quarrelling for food and we pointed to the two blaming them for that. Every one had a share of quarter of a loaf of bread and a few olives. For lunch we had either bulgur or rice. The prefect fills his palm with either of them and puts it in the open hands of each of us one by one standing in line. There were no culinary, each one had to manage eating the amount of food given to him in his hands.
That day, after beating us, they entered us into the bath. In the corner of the dormitory there was a bath and a toilet. I can’t tell you how they have collected 35 persons in a space 2 * 2 m. They warned us, who gets out of the bath will die. It was really impossible. some of us were forced to pop out of the bath because of the unbelievable crowd. Whenever any one shows off the bath they beat him hard obliging him to dive in the heap of bodies with all of his force pushing some one else out to be beaten. We remained so until the jailers got tired an got out of the dormitory.
Half an hour passed, some of us started encouraging the others to get out of the bath thinking that the party was over. We did not realize they were listening to us behind the door of the dormitory. They entered again, this time with electric sticks. The ground of the bath was full of 4-5 cm deep of water, our bodies were cramped and stuck to each other, when they stung the first at the door with the electric stick electricity ran through all of us. The first one died soon.
We remained stuck in the bath room for five days, deprived from going out to the “vast space” of the dormitory. When any of us needed to go to the toilet, they let him out to return soon to the bath room. They brought us no food, when any one of us feels thirsty he moves to the toilet to drink from the tap there and returns.
The prefect and his aid made something they called the mattress. It seems that he had learned how to make it in the prisons of security branches. He was brilliant in making it having in mind that he can do the same here. The mattress is nothing more than several blankets put on each other and fixed with ropes taken from tearing old blankets.
When the jailers came to punish us, they saw the two mattresses and the remains of the old blankets. This was normal in the prisons of the security services, but here, in Sednayah, the blanket is much more important than the prisoner. Once you tear a blanket you write your obituary by your hand. The jailers asked what are these? Who made them? We refused to answer, one of the jailers swore if we don’t tell him he would kill all of us. One of us, at last, said that these are mattresses made by the prefect and his aid. The jailer started cursing both of them, and ordered them to get out of the bath. They received beating I have never seen it before in my life. Jailers alternated on beating them, each with his own tool of beating. Usually one sting of the electric stick is enough, but one of them fixed it on the prefect for 45 seconds after which he was half paralyzed for several days.
At the end, one of us was courageous enough and asked the jailer to pardon us. He responded to our repentance and allowed us out of the bathroom. He warned us of making any noise in the future and promised to bring us food the following day. Of course, this pardon was accompanied by curses. We hailed the staff sergeant because he did not kill the one who dared asking him to forgive us.
In the Dormitory of Hunger
After fifteen days in the dormitory we heard of something they called it, “dormitories reshuffle.” We didn’t understand what was meant by that until they started taking us four by four and moving us to other dormitories. So, I was moved with three others to a dormitory of thirty prisoners. Now my story begins!
In the new dormitory we saw dead persons walking. Skeletons on feet. I was frightened when I saw them: they were very thin, deep cheeks, and prominent rib cages, the fattest of them was no more than 35-40 kg. At that time, I was seventy kg, my weight which remained the same in the prisons of the security branches. Food was satisfactory and I practiced sport even on the area of the one tile, my share in the dormitory.
We tried to communicate with them. I was afraid from them and from becoming like one of them. In the dormitory there were six sofras, each of five prisoners. We, the new comers made the seventh. The three other prisoners with me were “sons of one case,” that is they were, in the Syrian prison’s terminology, charged of one case. They were from Jisr al-Shughur – Idlib, the oldest of them was called Nadeem Kaheel, to whom I was close because of his noble manners. I realized that one of them was from my region, his name was Mohammad Hashem al-Aqraa, respected and loved by all the prisoners for his good manners and seniority in the prison, he was prisoned in 2011.
Abu Hashem al-Aqraa approached me, I told him my story, he gave me a pair of trousers and a shirt to put them on. We knew that there was a system of visits in the prison of Sednayah. Some of those in the dormitory have pajamas, a shirt or a sweater…I was totally glad to wear the clothes Abu Hashem had brought me from a young man from our region too. He was called Husam Mawwas, and he had already been visited by his family. Revealing my genitals was something of great shame to me. I used to cover them during time prayers which I did not neglect even in my worst conditions. Now I can pray normally, like the others.
I had my ablution and prayed with my body covered…That was a source of utmost pleasure to me.
Abu Hashem spread it in the dormitory that I was from his region and he is responsible on me, anyone who harms me will harm him. I didn’t understand it first, what will happen? A few days passed before I realized that it was all about food. The prisoners had been changed into wolves; each one tries to take the share of his colleague in order to survive. Abu Hashem’s warning was enough. Later on, even when my share of food was unguarded on the floor in front of all the prisoners no one tried to touch it. Abu Hashem was not the dormitory prefect but he volunteered to clean it, and he excelled in that.
Food was brought, eggs and olives. The share of our sofra of four persons was one egg and a half and half a loaf of bread. Abu Hashem told me not to exchange my share by myself, but to tell him to do that on behalf of me if I want. I did not understand that too, but later I realized that there was a trade based on bread. For example, a prisoner buys from another who had a visit, pajamas to cover his body, for three or four loaves of bread to be returned one quarter of loaf daily. The one who doesn’t like eggs can sell his share for half a loaf… and so on.
After our first breakfast here, we put the egg shells and the olive seeds aside. Three prisoners approached us and asked: “Do you need them?” We wondered of their question and asked them why? They said: the egg shells. I thought they were talking about cleanliness, I told them I shall throw them away but I do not know where, I am fresh in the dormitory. They repeated the question if we need them! Spontaneously, I said no. The scene turned dramatic when their hands violently snatched the egg shells. I felt that my heart pulses jumped to one thousand out of fear. I jumped back and shouted: “What are you doing?” they said: “You are new here, you will understand later.” What shall I understand? They said they eat egg shells, olive seeds, everything!
Abu Hashem told me I am new, and I have to calm down and I will understand everything later. I shouted: “what shall I understand? What is going on in front of my eyes?”
After one month, one month and a half, food became scarce. Four or five days may pass without any thing brought to us. Then a meal of a quarter or half a loaf of bread may be offered. I used to eat egg shells and olive seeds, like the others.
Four months passed in the dormitory at this routine, we sleep, wake up, wait for the little food, eat it whole gluttonously, differ on it. I shall not speak about beating because it was repeated to become part of our life. Even death was normal, some may die of beating, others from sickness or hunger…So was our life here.
Death of Abu Hashem
One day, Abu Hashem al-Aqraa, the man who taught me everything and took care of me was sick. He taught me to economize in bread and to save it for the rainy days. He kept my savings of food so no one can steal them. Those starving prisoners couldn’t bear seeing the bread of their mates. Bread was our main food. Because I practiced sports, I used to buy eggs from him and pay in installments. One day I took one egg, one complete egg from him and promised to pay for it later. Days passed and my share of bread was only one quarter of a loaf. He always refused to take it. It took me one complete week to pay the price of one egg. which was half or three quarters of a loaf.
Before he fell ill, we had sick prisoners. Some of them were totally weak to move or to eat in addition to diarrhea. I used to help Abu Hashem in cleaning the dormitory and removing the waste of those who were unable to move or control themselves. Another prisoner used to help Abu Hashem, Hameed Marwan Yassouf, from al-Ghab, Hama countryside, who died and told me to inform his family if I was released one day.
When Abu Hashem’s illness developed, Hameed and I took the responsibility of cleaning the dormitory. Later I knew that Abu Hashem had tuberculosis. I took care of him and massaged his body to relieve him.
Abu Hashem’s illness worsened, one day before he died his temperature jumped high, I soaked his shirt as a pad and put it on his forehead to let it drop. The next day he died between my hands and told me to inform his family if I was, one day, set free. I did.
When someone dies in the dormitory, we used to inform the jailer when he brings food. They send two soldiers with a stretcher, put it out of the dormitory and order us to take the dead out. Prefect of the dormitory should cross up the dead’s feet, and tie his hands on his chest. When the jailer orders the dead out, two prisoners carry his body out within five seconds counted by the jailer. If they fail to do that, they will be beaten mercilessly.
Speed and counting seconds were very important to the jailers, we were always under threats of beating. When jailers bring food, they count to three during which the prefect should bring out the empty bowls and take the full ones. After counting, the jailor shuts the door violently while the prefect is entering food. The heavy who metal door may break one of his organs or kill him instantly. That is why most of those who died were prefects. Didn’t I say that the prefect is a dead person?
Hussein Died Too
In this dormitory our prefect was from Aleppo, one of his relatives was with us too, Hussein. Hussein was young, an Education Faculty student in Aleppo University. We became friends, and started reading the Holy Quran together. In the security branches I had learnt many “surahs” (chapters) and during the seven months I spent in this dormitory I looked for some one who knows other chapters to read them to me, and for those who do not know to read it to them. That was a source of relief to me. Hussein wanted me to read to him “Yasin surah.” We started to read it together, he was about to learn it by heart when he showed the symptoms of tuberculosis. He couldn’t eat any more, and he gave me his shares of food. I refused to take them, so he gave them to the prefect of the dormitory who gave them to those who need them more.
In one of the midnights, I heard someone calling my name. I woke up. It was Hussein under a blanket in one of the angles of the dormitory pointing his finger to me. I approached him to see what he wants. “Nothing” He said: “Just sit beside me and read me Yasin surah.” I won’t forget that night at all. He said: “just sit beside me, put your hand on my forehead and read Yasin surah.” I did that. When I finished, I asked him if he needs anything more, he didn’t reply. I thought he slept. I went back to my place to sleep. In the morning I discovered that he had died while I was reading for him. I wept him from my heart and I still do.
We washed him the Islamic way and informed the jailer of his death when he brought us breakfast: “Sir we have a dead prisoner” He replied in his Alawite accent: “You have a Fates?… (a humiliating word for the dead) Keep him. Later on, we will take him” Hussein’s corpse remained two days in the dormitory before they took it away. During that time, I looked at him unable to eat or to speak to anybody.
Mohammad was Killed Too
Once I said that when a jailer enters, we should quickly run to the wall facing the door, squatting with our faces to the wall and our backs to the jailer. Our number was large to the space of the dormitory so we used to take that position in three rows, with the new comers in the third row who receive the hardest beating. Abu Hashem’s place was in the first row opposite the wall for his seniority. Me being the youngest, I was in the third row. Because of my young age and his sympathy towards me, he wanted them to swap places to save me from beating, decreasing the possibility of death, I did not accept. One of the prisoners in the second row swapped his place with mine and told me he will sit behind me to protect me from beating. The first time I entered the dormitory I recognized his face. He was tall with dark skin from the eastern country side of Hama, married and had two daughters, I think his name was Mohammad, I did not know more about him because I had no opportunity to be close to him.
When we agreed to swap places, and the jailers came to beat us the following day, I took my place in the second row, Mohammad was behind me. When they beat us, our bodies fall on each other, I exploited my small body and laid my body on the ground so the others would cover me. When they left the dormitory, I was soaked with the blood of Mohammad with his big body laid over me. I told him: “Mohammad… it is over… they left, get away so I can move… you are about to kill me.” He did not reply.
Mohammad died to protect me, so did Husam Mawwas who gave me the clothes to cover myself. Husein died, and Mohammad Hashem al-Aqraa died…I became lonely.
The other Mohammad Died
Death plagued our dormitory on a daily basis and for various reasons.
I entered this dormitory with three prisoners from Jisr Jisr al-Shughur, three of them of one legal case. They were relatives. When the first was arrested, under torture, he gave the names of the other two, Nader Nadeem Kaheel, and another one, his name was Mohammad too. He was born in 1995, an engineering student in a private university. We became friends, the three of us of similar ages.
One day Mohammad was summoned for a visit. When he returned, his face was pale, and his eyes were buggy. He was changed into another man, always absent minded and weeping. He stopped eating and drinking. When we force him to eat, he keeps chewing the morsel in his mouth for half an hour unable to swallow it. We knew why when he told us that his mother and aunt visited him, and he saw how much his mother was sad. He was very close to her, so he suffered from depression which exhausted him gradually until he died in front of our eyes.
Dormitory without a Prefect
Because of the relentless strong beating, the prefect was unable to do his duties. One of the prisoners volunteered to replace him, but he was slow in drawing the bowls of food, once the jailer finished counting, he closed the heavy door on him breaking his back.
After this, no one dared accept being a prefect. One of the prisoners proposed to take the position on condition of having an extra share of food, we did not accept. Food was our main obsession. We decided to remain without a prefect provided that every day one of us do the mission and we share the food equally. Lack of experience was critical in the mission of receiving the food because the door closed on many of us during that process leaving half of us handicapped. My turn was late, I prayed it will not come.
I changed from praying discreetly, just moving my eyes, and started praying seated and prostrated. I started encouraging the others to follow my example. Prayers are totally prohibited under the punishment of beating to death. I told myself: “Beating is a daily practice whether we pray or not, so let us pray.”
In the dormitory, there was a young man; Ahmad. He narrated to us the sad story of his life since he left his father’s house in the age of nine, how he went to Damascus to live in the streets, homeless, and how he moved to live with his uncles in Lebanon, where he worked and improved his financial status. When the revolution started, he decided to return to Syria, join the army and defend his country, loyal to the regime. On his way to Syria, they arrested him at the borders under the charge of evading the mandatory service, and was brought to Sednayah. Because of the destitution he lived in his early years “his heart was dead.” He got used to beating. He was careless, of bad manners, used to steal food of his mates, but generally he was good hearted.
One day his turn came to receive the food. After finishing that task, he called the jailer who had passed several dormitories. The jailer threatened to beat him if the reason was unimportant.
When the jailer returned, Ahmad told him that our dormitory is without a prefect. Ahmad sprayed oil on fire, the jailer started cursing God, and Ahmad with the meanest curses: What? You have no prefect!!, I’ll show how to be a prefect! The food the jailers had just brought us was bulgur and soup. They were five. They put Ahamd in the middle of the dormitory, poured the hot soup on him and started beating him. He started yelling begging for mercy asking them to stop beating him to tell them something important. The jailers stopped to know what he wants to tell them. Ahmad said: “Some prisoners pray in the dormitory!!”
When I heard this sentence, my heart fell to my stomach. Soon I shall be dead. Ahmad played it well, he didn’t mention names. He said all the prisoners pray so that the punishment will be collective, something we got used to. When the jailer failed to have names from Ahmad, he struck him with the Harawaneh on his mouth, broke his jaw and left him unconscious. That was not all, he poured the bulgur on Ahmad’s body, left the dormitory giving the order: “Start eating.”
The food was on Ahmad’s body and around him, mixed with his blood. In spite of this, many of us ate it and drank the sauce as usual. It was the first meal after two days of starvation.
We expected Ahmad to die, but he was well built. For ten days we offered him our shares of soup to drink it with difficulty. When his jaw improved it was arbitrarily tilted making it difficult for him to eat and to talk even after his full recovery.
There were two ways to offer food; beating first and then the meal. In the second they pour food on our bodies if they have no desire to beat us. When they bring what they call “tea” for breakfast, they pour it on our heads while we are squatting. It was always hot. Tea leaves stick to the head of the man in front of me or on the shoulder of the man beside me, and we ate them. We used our palms to make something like a ladle to collect as much as we can of the poured tea to drink it. The floor was dirty because we sit naked on it, but we were in need of something sweet and of a liquid other than water. We did the same with soup at lunch. At the beginning I hesitated to do that, but out of the chronic hunger I submitted and did like the others. Sometimes, to gain time, we put our mouths on the liquid poured on the ground to suck it with all the hair and dirt in it.
I remember that they treated liquids according to their temperature, if the liquid is cold, they would pour it on the floor, but if it is hot, they pour it on our heads.
The number of those who die from starving was bigger than the number of those who die from torture.
Once, they left us three days without food, In the third day they brought us something we haven’t seen before. The beautiful smell of the margarine in bulgur and lentil soup filled the whole building. We waited our turn eager to hear the door open and take the bowls of food. When they entered the food, we all ran to take it even before the door was closed. We made noise, the staff sergeant called the jailers and they started beating us. Then he lifted the soup bucket which we were waiting to reach our bodies, and poured it on the floor. He poured the bulgur in the toilet. Some of us ran to the toilet and started scooping.
I started crying… I wanted to shout…I didn’t know what to do. It is impossible to erase that scene from my life…
Amounts of food were very little. One, two, or three days may pass without food. When they bring the individual share is no more than half or three quarters of a loaf of bread. Rarely we had a full loaf. In two years, I remember I had a full loaf once or two times.
Now I believe that starvation is the most difficult way of torture. Man can get used to beating. You may wonder of me saying this, but it is true although torture in Sednayah caused death hundreds of times. At the beginning we were afraid of beating, but after some time it became normal. Whenever a prisoner dies you just say: “May God bless him.” We got used to everything except hunger. Some times we asked our colleagues to sit on our bellies to help us bear hunger.
Breakfast was always olive and potato with tea. Many times, they throw olive and potato on the floor, tea was poured on our heads if it is hot, or on the floor if it is warm or cold. Lunch was either rice or bulgur with soap or sauce. Soap was offered like tea, on the floor or on our heads according to its temperature. Once, months passed with nothing hot to drink. A hot liquid was a dream. We believed that drinking any hot liquid will be enough to stop the diarrhea which plagued many of us and will rid our bodies from bacteria.
Share of every one of us from soap on the floor was no more of four to five spoons, with a lesser number from rice or bulgur. Of course, we had neither spoons nor culinary. I Just estimated the amounts.
Inside the dormitory we had plain water all the time. We drank a lot of water to ease our hunger, but water was calciferous and trepid, many times it caused diarrhea and kidney problems.
We were able to wash our bodies in the dormitory, but that was very difficult for most of us because water was very cold. Sednayah is a summer place, the prison was built on a hill surrounded by a chain of high mountains capped with snow most of the year, even in Summer. That was reason for lack of water which freezes in the pipes. I used to bath regularly although it was more difficult than beating to avoid scabies, which spread in the prison.
There were hot water baths in the prison! Yes, that’s true, but we all wished time of bathing not to come. The ward where we were has nine occupied dormitories and one was empty, changed into baths.
I wish I had a camera to photo the way in which we had to bath. They order us to take off completely nude, take us one dormitory after the other starting from the first one. We take the position of the train which I described at the reception. Each one holding the waist of the one in front of him, heads on the backs in order not to see anything or anybody. When the train starts seven to ten jailers run with it beating the prisoners continuously. Who slips down they beat him violently, and may kill him and throw him in the dormitory! Those who are lucky arrive in the bath safe.
The bath has seven or eight rooms. Every three, four or five prisoners get in together to stand under the shower of warm water, the only means of washing (no soap). We used to push each other to stand in the center under the small and slow shower, to drink something hot and to clean our skins as much as we can to protect ourselves from scabies. Can any of you imagine the share of water the prisoner can have taking into consideration that the time of bathing is limited by ten seconds only and the jailer is counting: one, two, three, four, quick you pimps, five, six, seven, eight, nine, tennnn!!” over.
Once he utters the last number we should all, the dormitory tenants or those who survived of them, be out taking the position of the train. Who happens to be late will be beaten to bleed, to have a limb broken, or to be killed.
I have already said that I was in the seventh dormitory. This means that six dormitories have already bathed before us and the floor have become wet which may increase the risk of slipping or falling to trigger the anger of the jailer who will beat him to faint or to die. Therefor we always prayed not to be taken to the bath.
Mohammad the Third:
His name was Mohammad too, a Turkman from Aleppo. He was a soldier in the army of the regime, with a friend of his whom we called Abu Skander. (Alexander). He did not attend in his unit against a bribe given regularly to his commander, known in Syria as “pay roll card.” Mohammad, with three of his colleagues, used to sleep at Abu Skander when they have a leave to avoid long travels home. One day, a slander against Abu Skander brought him to interrogation which started with a charge of evading mandatory service to a charge of cooperating with the armed groups. Under torture he admitted the charge. When they asked him about his partners in the conspiracy against the state, he gave them the names of his four friends. They arrested them all and brought them to our dormitory.
Mohammad told me the following story: “we were fighting with the army at the front line with only fifty meters between us and our enemies. We were in a tent behind the trench when they arrested us. Then who were those whom we were fighting? How is that? What about our friends who were killed in the battle?”
When I was set free, Mohammad was still there, I don’t know anything about him, but I witnessed the death of Abu Skander of emaciation and sickness.
The Prison’s Doctor
Sometimes, jailers come with a doctor. We receive them squatting with faces to the wall. They order us to stand, squat and run in the place. When the doctor notices who can’t respond or perform slowly, he calls him, ask him his name. Whatever the answer is, the doctor slaps him several times and writes on his elbow a number saying: “your name is not so and so… Your name is 11,833. Don’t forget it” and then he orders him to return to the row. I remember this number because it was mine when I got sick.
In the following day, when a chain of prisoners will be sent to the hospital, Tishreen military hospital, the jailer, at the door, calls the number. When the prisoner replies: “yes sir” as usual, the jailer enters and starts beating him to death and leaves him in place or sends him to the hospital bloodied!
Did I say hospital? Tishreen military hospital was a phobia, a genocide center, a holocaust, a grave yard. I can’t describe it. It was another Sednayah prison. No one from our dormitory went there and returned!
In spite of this I wanted to go there. May be, I have got bored of the dormitory after all the dear people to my heart had died in it. Other prisoners were led to unknown places. I was a modest athlete, but I intended to slow my motion to pay the attention of the doctor. He called me, wrote on my hand and asked me my name, I read the number written on my elbow. He was pleased
To Tishreen Military Hospital
The following day they called my number, I got out. They collected the patients from all the dormitories in one waiting room. Some of them were dying, others heavily breathing. Those who were unable to walk were drawn on the stairs while being beaten. I noticed that the accent of one of the patients is similar to mine. I realized that he was from a village near to mine. We started a friendly talk. When they take us from the waiting room to the closed vehicle, “the fridge” they don’t help those who can’t get up the vehicle. We helped each other. Generally, we had small weights, about 30 kg each.
The road to Tishreen hospital takes between three to four hours. When we arrived, we knew that they will not enter us in the hospital but to a cell 4 * 2 m out of it with a toilet in the corner. In this small space they crowed between 25 to 30 prisoners. When we entered the cell, other prisoners from Sednayah were getting out of it. Some of them stayed.
One of the old prisoners took the responsibility of lining us in a row. He made mistakes in arrangements and in counting. The staff sergeant got angry and called: “Who likes to be a prefect?” the prisoner from my region volunteered to be. It was not his first visit. He arranged us quickly which pleased the staff sergeant and told him to select an aid, he selected me. I became a “prefect aid.”
I didn’t know what is the meaning of this here! When the staff sergeant left, my colleague, the prefect, (agreed to call him the uncle) came and told me that our mission is very difficult. I asked him why? He said the staff sergeant will return and order the patients to run and squat in the place. Who will do good will enter the hospital, and we will be ordered to liquidate those who fail?
I was shocked to hear that. I asked him: “what do you mean by liquidating them?” He said: “we have to kill them” I asked again: “what are you saying?” he repeated what he had said adding: “If we don’t do that we will be killed, and if we do it we will eat a lot.”
I realized that the prefect of the prison’s cell is a hitman. He is a prisoner, like the others, but he is ready to kill them to eat a lot of good food offered here in big quantities.
To get rid of this ordeal I proposed to the prefect to feed the prisoners and train them in the time available so they all can do well. The former prefect and his aid had already saved a big quantity of food; more than forty pieces of potato, a half kilo of olives and other kinds of food. We divided this amount between us, we the 25 prisoners, everyone had a share equal to what we have in a week or days in Sednayah prison. After eating, I frankly explained to them what the prefect had told me, to motivate them to move.
From the prefect I knew the following scenario. In the evening the staff sergeant will come to escort us to the door of the hospital, a distance of 150-200 m covered with white big pebbles. Because the prisoners were bare foot, some of them will collapse and fail to walk, the soldiers will be obliged to support or draw them. To avoid this trouble, the staff sergeant used to order the patients to do some exercises in the cell. If some of them fail, he will order the prefect to draw him aside ordering him: “do your job.”
Liquidation in the cell of Tishreen military hospital is performed as follows: The patient will be laid on his back with one soldier holding his hands and another his legs. The prefect arrives with a short stick and a shawl prepared for this purpose. He puts the stick on the neck of the patient and winds both the stick and the neck with the shawl. Then he twists the stick several times, the shawl gradually squeezes the neck of the patient until he dies.
In this way the prisoner kills four or five of his colleagues daily.
In order the prefect, and I, not to be forced to kill any one that day, (it was impossible for me to kill), we nourished the prisoners well. When the staff sergeant came, he was astonished. He took the first group to the cell and returned to take the second without giving orders of liquidating anybody.
In the morning of the following day, the prefect was released from the hospital and returned to Sednayah with the morning chain. I became the prefect of the cell. They brought breakfast; a big bag of olive, about 5 kg or more. There was no need to divide it. I put it in the middle of the cell so every one can eat as much as he wants. We couldn’t consume it. At noon, every share of bulgur was five times bigger than in Sednayah. It was fairly sufficient.
Here I confess that I kept two shares for me. Prefect of the cell should stay alert all the time. This duty needs two persons a prefect and an aid. I had no aid, so I kept some food for me to help me stay awake. In the evening a young prisoner came begging for food. I divided it between the two of us. Another one came after a while and I divided what remained between us saying I am obliged to keep awake and I need some food to help me do.
That was the first and last time I was appointed prefect, just for a few hours. The following day they called my name (number) to return. I believed they will return me to the dormitory, but they led me to what they call the “dormitories of seclusion.” What is this? It meant that my imprisonment will be doubled.
In the Dormitory of Seclusion
They entered me into a dormitory I haven’t seen before. In it I found the uncle. I asked him why we are here, he said in the hospital they examined our saliva which proved that we have tuberculosis, so they referred us to this seclusion dormitory. Here they give each prisoner one blanket. Every two prisoners share the blankets. They sleep on one and cover their bodies with the second. So, we did. We started to eat together. After two days he became unable to eat. He gave me his share, I refused it and tried forcing him to eat it… In the third day he exchanged his breakfast and lunch for tea. He put fragmented bread and made tea soup. He ate them all. I was glad he did. In the evening we talked a lot about our two neighboring villages and imagined how we shall visit each other after being set free. In the morning I tried to wake him up, he did not respond. I jumped from my place, lifted the blanket to find him dead.
I didn’t know him well. He was a good hearted one. I was glad to hear his accent. But realizing that he died at night, and that I was beside a dead person created a feeling of horror inside me. I started praying not stay long in the prison unless I will be released safe and sound. The idea of dying after long years of suffering is a difficult one.
The uncle died…May God bless him. We prepared him for burial and they took him out, I don’t know where to.
I thought that beating here will be less because we are sick, and quantity of food will be better. On the contrary, food rations decreased to a frightful level. Once they left us six days without food, then they brought each of us a quarter of a loaf of bread and one olive.
We had to take three tablets of medicine every day, but they brought us only two.
I thought I am brought newly to prison. All of the prisoners here were hungry selfish wolves although some of them spent months in the dormitory of seclusion. The conditions of famine forced some of them to think of killing their mates to take their food. I started yearning to the old dormitory and to the atmosphere of friendship and cordiality in it. It was heaven compared with this hell.
When I think of the period of my imprisonment, I see it not more than stairs rolling down, each one makes me look back to realize that I was in heaven. In the former dormitory I believed that there is nothing worse than Sednayah, but now I see that Sednayah prison has various levels of misery. Thank God. the seclusion dormitory was my final station in Sednayah.
In Tishreen Hospital Again
After two months in the seclusion dormitory a young man, just coming from the hospital, entered. As usual, we interrogated him asking about his story. He said he was in Tishreen Hospital and the prisoners were offered a lot of “potato’s omelet” (cubes of potato cooked with eggs and onion). After two days without any kind of food, this young man came to make me dream of (potato’s omelet).
It was long time since I forgot to think of getting out from this hell. I stopped thinking of my family, of being freed from this place which became my life style and my society.
When I heard the new comer, I knew that the hospital’s cell has no prefect. I decided to go there. My colleagues tried to make me change my mind recalling the killing of prisoners in that cell. I insisted. The new comer asked me why, I said it is the potato’s omelet, he said it is offered on Mondays and Thursdays. The day was Tuesday, I decided to go the following Thursday.
As usual the doctor visited our dormitory, I slowed my motion pretending to be sick. He called me and gave me a number. The following day they put us in the waiting room which had patients of different illnesses. Some of them were dying, others were exhausted, most of them were going to death, to liquidation, but they don’t know that. We climbed to the fridge and helped them get up. The fridge moved…we arrived in the hospital.
Our chain this time was fourteen patients, seven of them were dying, they took them directly to the cell. A good-hearted soldier noticed the pale faces of the rest of us, seven more prisoners, he told us to sit in the sun. One year and three months had passed my skin did not see sunshine. I saw it from the window, but wasn’t exposed to it. Now, all I wanted is to allow it to penetrate deep in my skin. Had the sun been close I would have hugged it!
We were seven, just beside us there was a transparent trash bag. The patient beside me poked me to look at it. When I saw it, I wished there was remains of food in it. I have never imagined myself searching deep in the trash to eat although only water was my food during the past three days., We planned, we the closest to the bag, to avail the opportunity of the absence of soldiers and grab the bag to eat whatever we find in it. If they see us, they would liquidate us immediately.
When the time was suitable, we pulled the bag and started emptying it, we found orange skins, tea leaves, cigarette wakes, we ate all that. We wanted to try any taste other than the bulgur, rice and olive of the prison. I found six bundles of green onion tails. I took them out, my colleague saw me, snatched them from my hand! I told him I’ll give them to you, leave me some, we quarreled, the bag fell on the ground, the soldier saw us and ran towards us.
He started to curse us because we eat from the trash wondering angrily “Do we deprive you from food?” promising to deprive us from food when we return. There were still some tails of the green onion in my hands, I swallowed them quickly feeling that their hot taste was giving me a lot of energy.
The soldier took the prisoner to the cell leaving us, the trash diggers, out. He brought a long tube, Lakhdar Brahimi, started beating us with his full strength. We were mere skeletons. I felt I was dying. It was the most painful whipping since I had arrived in Sednayah. After 15 whips he ordered us into the cell quickly, we were in an awful state. Why are we punished like this, because we ate from trash?
We sat in the sunshine for half an hour, were subject to beating and whipping for more than fifteen minutes. Generally, we were late about an hour to the cell during which the fatally ill were already liquidated…
They led us to the hospital with our heads down, hands on our heads covering our eyes in order not to see anything. I felt we were passing near human beings, I dared look at them. I wanted to see a normal human being not a jailer. When I saw a woman wearing a black dress beside a man wearing shirt and trousers, I felt an overwhelming joy. Even if he beats me now, I will not care. I saw something new, human beings.
This time they had an image of my chest, the following day they returned us to the prison. In the dormitory my colleagues asked me if I had “potato’s omelet.” I said no, the meal I had in the hospital was very poor, bread only, that was my fifth day without food. When we arrived, the staff sergeant was about to enter lunch meal to the dormitory. A colleague of mine and I were returning from the hospital in a drastic situation, very weak, We, hardly, could walk. I asked my colleague: “What do you say of asking the staff sergeant to permit us eat of the food before distributing it?” He refused the idea saying we will not bear beating and we might die. I said… then let us die.
I asked the staff sergeant; “Sir, let me kiss your hand! For God’s sake?” He said angrily “what do you want?” I explained to him my hunger begging him to give me anything to eat, a potato, a handful of bulgur, a piece of bread, anything? He shouted in my face as if he wants to beat me. I told him: “Sir, kill me, beat me, do whatever you want… and let me eat.” He said nervously: “you will eat in the dormitory” I said we were in the hospital and they will not give us our share.
I felt I was strong. It was an achievement to talk to a staff sergeant. My colleague joined me begging him. He silenced us.
We entered the dormitory with the bowls of food. As usual, our colleagues were squatting, faces to the wall. Once we entered, we fell down on the floor in a state near to unconsciousness. No one could turn his face, nor eat unless the staff sergeant gives the order of “start eating.” This time he said: Dormitory No four>>>the prisoners said yes sir. “The two dogs I brought with me will sit and eat to be satisfied, then you distribute the food among you!”
When he got out, we jumped and started eating with extreme voracity, prisoners’ hands stretched to prevent us. Frankly, they were right, we were equal in hunger, but I couldn’t stop eating. I took two handfuls of bulgur, when they pulled me away, I took a piece of potato and swallowed it quickly in order not to allow them take it from my mouth. It choked my throat. I was unable to talk or breathe and started signaling them to save me. No one tried to help excluding a good man who offered me water and started beating my back. At last…the potato was swallowed.
I shouldn’t have eaten the potato. It was a fault, but in my case, it was difficult to distinguish the good from the bad. That day I felt I will die if I wait distributing the food which usually takes about half an hour. I apologized from my colleagues and explained what happened in the hospital. The eldest of them justified our deed… and they all forgave us. Did I say forgave us? for what? for a piece of potato? Imagine how limited minded we were!
The following four days food reached us in scant quantities. In the fifth day two prisoners quarreled over the color of their eggs, the white or the brown. Their voices were loud, so they decided to punish the whole dormitory. They deprived us from food for five days during which we fainted, and some of us died. I felt I was going to die. Unable to walk, I started creeping to get some water.
When they deprive a dormitory from food, they bring food in bowls, put them at the door. the prisoners do not know whether they will enter it or will take it to other dormitories, the order of punishments. We heard them putting our food at the door then somebody take it away!
Again, the colleague of the hospital and I were encouraged to talk to the staff sergeant. We started knocking at the door calling for help. Some colleagues tried to silence us to avoid beating, while others supported us: “let them come, kill us, and end this long torture.”
The staff sergeant came, without opening the door he tried to understand the story. It was not the staff sergeant who punished us. Our colleagues told him that two prisoners quarreled loudly, one of them died but we are still punished. Our mission, we the youngest was to cry loudly to implore him. He said: “Alright… Alright. I’ll solve it today.” When we heard him, we hoped the day next will come soon, because he listened to us after distributing lunch which means there will be no more food for this day.
The day next, they brought us breakfast, then lunch. We returned to the normal routine.
Yasin surah…Saved us
We spent days exchanging stories about our past life and about our future hopes, and of course about food, how do we prepare meals, their ingredients, and how cookies and sweets are prepared. I started looking for companions to learn the Quran by heart. I used to pray seated, not afraid of what will come after the misery of the prison.
I had learnt Yasin surah by heart from a prisoner who told me: “Yasin is a bless for what you intend” I asked him what is the meaning of this? He told me; “If you want to ask God for something, read it asking God to respond to you or to protect you from evils. I taught it for other prisoners, before any interrogation session, or when I have a problem.”
In Sednayah sleeping is forbidden before the order: “Sleeeeep.” They gave that order in different times; at one, at ten, or even before that. Whenever you hear the order you have to sleep. Any sound after the order, the dormitory will be punished.
One day, it was 1.30 a.m. and no order to sleep was heard. We thought that either they were drunk or have forgotten the order. We heard other dormitories preparing blankets to sleep. We were very sleepy, we started to sleep while the prefect was moving between us to wake us, because jailers sneak clandestinely to surprise us. If they find us sleeping, they will liquidate the prefect. After a long argument he helplessly agreed to open the blankets and sleep. Suddenly we heard the jailers: “Wheel” which means a torture party for all the dormitories of the prison, starting from the first floor at 02.00 o’clock a.m. Listening to the voices of those being tortured was a punishment by itself. It was horrible as if you enter an empty city and hear sounds of ghosts and storms.
I was squatting between two colleagues, one to my right and the other to my left. I told them let us read Yasin surah hoping they will not enter our dormitory. They said it is impossible, the wheel means all the prison. They will come to us what ever we do. I encouraged them saying: “You are not more merciful than God, the almighty.” I was afraid, like them, or may be more. We started reading swiftly, stuttering and repeating it from the beginning. I read it three times.
I swear, they tortured the third dormitory, passed our dormitory to the fifth without any reason. It was the Quran which protected us that night.
I wept from my heart that night in a way different from all the nights of my imprisonment. While I was reading the Quran, I saw boots of the soldiers moving right or left passing our dormitory as if it is not present. They didn’t open the door window or even mention number four. I felt it was a miracle, as if I was set free. I said: “MY God, you protected us this night, I beg you to relieve us from this hell.”
Last Time in the Hospital
After a while, I don’t know why, I decided to go to Tishreen Hospital for the third time. My colleagues advised me not to do, it is not a game. I knew that, but returning safe from there two times encouraged me to do, may be to eat the “potato omelet,” which I failed to have in the past visit. I can’t remember.
We followed the same routine until we got in the fridge and the trip started. I looked around me and discovered that some of the patients were from the “Royal Suite.” It was a suite especially prepared to receive international human rights committees if the regime was obliged to receive any of them. Its tenants were all privileged by recommendations from officials in the government. It was like usual prisons, where food, water and sports were available, and its guests were healthy.
In the fridge I recognized a prisoner whom I had known in one of the security branches and then thought that we became friends. I saw someone whom I felt he hated me after a few words. When we arrived, he started talking and joking with the staff sergeants freely, he was appointed prefect, but I felt that five or six of the prisoners who were in the fridge became prefects.
In their presence, large amounts of food entered the cell, but we saw nothing of them. Before entering the food, they ordered us to face the wall, When food was brought, they ate ferociously until it was finished. I thought it was delicious, may be potato omelet.
Sometimes, the meal was olive and boiled potato, which those privileged had got bored of , They gave us half of it and kept the second half. When we arrived in the hospital, I had been deprived of food for three days, I felt that my stomach will jump out of my body when I heard the sounds of their mouths chewing the food. I asked the one whom I thought he was a friend, they called him Abu Haider, to give me one morsel, just one morsel, he ordered me to stand. I thought he will give me some food. The one who hated me was looking to see what Abu Haider will do. Abu Haider held me from my neck, lifted me saying in a fake Alawite accent: “you want food?” That was the last sentence I had heard before falling unconscious, on the ground. I didn’t know what happened after that. The other prisoners who were with us told me the following story:
The six of the privileged started beating me and jumping on my body. Each one of them was 70-80 kg. Then they lifted me and dropped me on the ground. They thought I died. They put me with the dead.
Corpses of the dead were heaped over each other. They put me on two of them, and later put over me corpses of two prisoners whom they had liquidated after me. After Half an hour I started resuming consciousness. A painful spark started in my feet
Later, I told this story to a doctor. He told me that my heart had stopped beating for a moment and then resumed pumping blood which made me feel that an electric current was running in my body. I shouted loudly, I thought that all the hospital heard me. The prefects, Shabiha, were shocked, they thought I returned from death, a doctor entered the cell, ordered us all: “stand, what is the story, the prisoners told him what happened. He wanted to know who was shouting?” Some looked at him to tell him, he ordered us all: “face to the ground” It was prohibited to see the face of a doctor. He looked at me and said: “Come here.” I did not respond. He said: “You the last one to the right, come here” I approached him looking down. He told me to raise my head and look up, I told him this is prohibited. He insisted I look at him in the face. I raised my head, I saw him, he was young, about 27 years old with a light blond beard. He asked me: “Who was beating you?” I said; “No one sir.” He repeated the question but I dared not tell him the truth. He asked me about my name, my town and my charge, then asked me: “Are you hungry?” I felt he was kind, I said yes. I haven’t eaten for four days. He said: “Those prefects, sons of bitches don’t give you food!” I was afraid, I thought he was cheating me to punish me like what they do in the prison. I said: “Sir …they give us food…but I am very hungry” He ordered a soldier to bring me some thing to eat. The soldier returned with a large amount of bread and put them on a table out of the cell. One of the prefects moved to bring them to the cell. He stopped and told me to bring them. When I brought the bread, he told me to take a loaf and distribute the rest on the prisoners equally and to take a share like them.
Once the doctor left the cell the Shabiha attacked me, took the bread and ordered me to return to my place. The bread was enough to give each prisoner one full loaf, but they took it and gave every one of us a quarter of a loaf. They gave me half a loaf because I did not betray them. Abu Haider looked at me and gave me a quarter of a loaf. That day, I ate three quarters of a loaf, the only time I had during my stay in the prison of Sednayah!