We were not able to know the time, no watches of course, so we estimated the time of dawn prayers from the early morning birds’ songs.
August 9, 2020
Source: The Association of Detainees and The Missing in Sednaya Prison
They took us to “branch 248” for a temporary stay. We heard that this will take one or two days before referring us to Sednayah prison, but we were kept there for a month and a few days. They were very difficult days making us dream of the day of taking us to Sednayah, or to be returned to “branch 293” where they first took us. It is true that we were tortured and beaten during interrogation, but being confined in a solitary cell underground without uttering a word was extremely unbearable. When they took us out, we couldn’t open our eyes naturally because they had got used to the dimness of the cell.
At last our “dream” came true. We were referred to Sednayah. We were 25-30 persons. They handcuffed us, tied us with chains and led us to a closed vehicle as if we were sheep. On the way to Sednayah we wished a miracle would occur, the car would tumble and we all die or be able to run away. This did not happen. We heard sounds of cars and imagined how the people outside were leading their normal life.
We arrived in Sednayah. We couldn’t see the prison from the closed vehicle, dubbed the fridge. Inside, we found ourselves in a square. They ordered us to bow our heads in order not to see their faces. They checked our names with the documents they have. They ordered us to take off our clothes, and began beating us from 12.00 p.m. to 05.00 p.m.
Then, they divided us in groups of 7-8 prisoners. They took us to a basement about 20 steps down, dark and wet with sounds of human beings being tortured. They ordered us to lay down procumbent, faces down, and started beating us again, then they entered each group into a room less than 2 * 1.7 m with a little toilet. The jailer started calling our names and asking about our charges while slapping us on the face, followed by beating on the feet until we lost control on our bodies.
They kept us in the small rooms for a long time. We had no idea about the arrangements in the prison, so we thought that we will spend all what remains of our lives in these rooms. The rooms were very cold, the floor was always wet and we had no blankets. Food was very scarce, we had nothing but water to fill our stomachs. Our jailer throws the food on the floor to be eaten by those who are extremely hungry. Every day we had a course of beating for no reason.
In the dormitory
At the end of March 2012, i.e. after about eleven days, they took us from the underground cells, climbed long stairs although we were exhausted from fatigue and from relentless beating. We arrived in a dormitory. It was totally empty, nothing in it. They entered us and without seeing their faces, we heard them ordering: “You stay here, food will be brought to you here. No sounds and whispers.” They taught us the position which we should take every time a jailer comes in, to sit squatting, faces to the wall and hands behind the back. After a few minutes one of them threw four soap bars and said: “You pimps, wash up,” then they brought two military blankets of unbearable smell for each one of us. Every two prisoners shared blankets, three on the ground and one as a cover. After the painful torture we had suffered in the dim basement we felt that we were in paradise!
The following day they brought us the breakfast, one complete egg for each person and enough bread. Lunch was cooked bulgur (Burghul) which filled our stomachs after long painful days of hunger.
Few days passed, suddenly they entered the dormitory and created an atmosphere of terror. They asked those wearing military uniforms to take them off and throw them outside. Then they beat us on the wheel. This procedure became a routine repeated every week.
They appointed one of us, colonel Nidal al-Haj, prefect of the dormitory. He had to present three names of trouble makers every week, or two or three of us would volunteer on behalf of the others to receive the daily punishment.
The responsible of the dormitory was a staff sergeant, dark brown face, 170 cm full body, we gave him a nick name; al-Dairy (from Deir ez-Zur) to discover later that he was from Manbij, Aleppo countryside.
Days passed and we dare gather in the corners of the dormitory and whisper to each other. Whenever we feel that the door window is being opened, we soon turn and face the walls.
After a few months, food began to worsen, treatment became harder, and life conditions in the dormitory created frequent differences for silly reasons between the detainees.
One day, the jailers entered and told us that we can buy detergents by “bills,” a system known in Syrian prisons which means paying exaggerated prices from the money we have in the “deposits.” We paid to buy tooth brushes and tooth paste, then we were allowed to buy medicines, also by bills. It was a privilege to allow us buy medicines without a prescription from the doctor whose presence was a sign of pessimism, because we had to be completely naked when he enters. There was a possibility to register to go to the hospital but we dare not exploit this bless. Once, one of us went to the hospital. When he returned, he told us that they put him in the hospital’s detention room, gave him two envelops of antibiotics and one envelop of analgesics without being examined.
In spite of this, the trip to the hospital was an opportunity to be pampered.
Water might be cut off for seven or eight days consecutively, so we had to rationalize using it. Food quantities dwindled, and jailers began to throw food on us. Prisoners started to get sick and die due to the deteriorating immunity of their bodies.
In 2013 beating became a daily routine, it was very severe and blood spots began to smear the walls. The first one who died in front of me was Khalil Alloush from Daraa, a lieutenant colonel with an athletic body. Once, they entered the dormitory and he dared speak to them. They beat him and broke his shoulder and hand. In the morning they transported him to the hospital where they beat him on his kidneys and returned him in a much worse situation. Despite his clear sickness they came to beat him. Two or three days after returning from the hospital he died.
First lieutenant Abdul Aziz Sweid from Kafr Nabl got sick. He was assigned prefect of our dormitory. After one month he started to hallucinate. This did not save him from being beaten. Sick prisoners were subject to beating more than healthy ones because of their violations of the regulations. Abdul Aziz was Tall and well built before he began losing weight. At that time, he was the heaviest of us, 50 Kg. When he died, they put him beside me! They took our blankets and clothes and we sat completely naked. I felt my health was gradually deteriorating.
Scabies spread among us and we started scratching our bodies to bleeding. Scabies was severe on me to an extent I did dare tell the sergeant when he asked who is infected of us. I showed him my scratched body and asked for medicine. He brought me two packs of Benzoate and 20 antibiotic capsules. He asked if I know how to use them, I said no. He taught one of the prisoners how to message my body and wash it with cold water. I told him that I shall not forget this favor. This behavior encouraged us to ask him bring us medicines and more bread. Relatively, he treated us kindly. One month passed and he disappeared, we realized that he was moved from the prison.
Days passed and I, in my turn, started hallucinating. I could no more distinguish those around me. Mohammad Qassoum, may God bless his soul, took care of me. After getting out from the prison I knew that he died there.
One day they called for “Ahmad Khaled Tarieyeh” and asked him about his birth place. He was from Ar-Rastan. They ordered him to put his finger prints on a paper without reading it. That was normal. We were not allowed to know the content of such papers. Our faces were always to the wall, so we didn’t know that they were beating him. After a few minutes of their departure we felt free to turn our faces and look around us. We found him laid on the ground, we thought that he was exhausted or sick, but he was dead.
In the Court
After three months in the prison they started submitting us to courts and allowing visits. Duration of the visit was three minutes only. We used to ask those who return from the visits and interpret any word they had heard from their visitors as a sign of a near release, or that the prison will fall to the Free Syrian Army.
Returnees from the courts were always frustrated and exhausted from the severe beating they receive. They always returned with severe cases of scabies which is widely spread in the prisons of the military police in Qaboun.
I remained one year and a half victim of forced disappearance, nobody knows anything about me until I was submitted to the court. I spent a night there in a room nearly 5 * 4 m with about 200 detainees heaped over each other swapping scabies and lice.
The following day they entered me to a judge who ordered taking the blind off my eyes. He asked about the eleven charges against me. I denied them all. He said: “INkeli Wlak” which means get away, you… asshole. I did.
One month after the trial I was summoned for a visit for the first time. Before that, I dreamt of a visit and showed my colleagues how I would walk to the door to see my visitors. Visits were limited to Sundays and Tuesdays every week. One Tuesday the jailer entered and called my name. He said “Lift your sweater to cover your head.” I did. “Move… you ass hole” I moved. They collected 6 or seven prisoners from other wards who had visits, led us all to a wide corridor, then I knew that we were in the third floor.
My visit was on July 07, 2013. The good sergeant, himself, led me down. I understood, only then, that he was moved to another ward, not out of the prison. Before the visit, they cut the hair of the prisoners. My lip was wounded and I had a slap. They took us to a large hall to wait. All of us were squatting and every time one tries to sit on the floor he will be beaten or kicked by an anonymous jailer. Waiting started at 10.00 a.m. till 04.00 p.m. I felt I am going to die. At the end I heard my name and I was told to wear my sweater properly.
In the visit hall the prisoner stands in front of a metal mesh and the visitor in front of another one with a narrow walk between them where a sentry walks and another one stands behind the prisoner. When I saw my family, I started weeping. I saw my wife and two daughters, Sana and Naheeda. I love this scene a lot and passionately like to recall it although it makes me cry every time I remember it. I couldn’t recognize the two girls because of the long time in the prison and the way they had grown up. This is why I couldn’t speak to them in the first visit.
I thought that my youngest daughter was the elder because I left her sister in the same age. I did not know the elder. I asked the little one to talk to me: “I am dad my love, my soul.” She kept silent. She was only months when I left her. Strong exhaustion was clear on my wife’s face.
Like a spark, the three minutes passed. I told them good bye with tears in my eyes. A jailer asked me: “You pimp, why are you crying?” and started beating me!
After the visit they gave me a bag with a towel and two sets of under wear only. It is impossible for any visitor to bring just these items for a prisoner. I knew later that my wife had brought me three brand-new pajamas, several under wear sets, and many other items. “Sons of a bitch” expropriated all of them.
I climbed the stairs to the third level totally fatigued. I tried to forget my family during the months in the prison, but now, their images have nested in my mind, waiting for the second visit which we were told not to wait it before three months. I started counting days and hours. The three months passed very slowly, I thought they were years.
Execution and Punishments
In this period scabies spread fast among us. Food was scarce, and death spread its wings wide over the prison dormitories. Jailers used to announce names of defectors from the army and lead them to nowhere, sure, to execution. Our numbers started to decrease, so they moved those who remained alive to other dormitories. One of us was appointed responsible of distributing water on dormitories equally. We arranged shifts of two to clean the dormitory daily in case we have enough water. We formed something like a court to solve the differences that started to arise between us, result of the shortage of food and water. Prisoners, sometimes, quarreled, and if their voices reached the jailer, he would torture all prisoners of the dormitory for a complete night or take them to solitary cells.
Frequency of torturing prisoners increased for no reason, just so, an entertainment to the jailers. One frequently imposed punishment was drawing blankets from the prisoners. A jailer might enter the dormitory and orders the prefect to pour cold water on our heads, or shouts: “Arms up” leaving us in this case for a day or two, during which they bring food, as usual, and put it in the middle of the dormitory prohibiting anyone from approaching it.
Norms of Prison Life
We suffered a lot from lack of sugar, so dreams were the only source of having sweets. Since I was released from prison I turned into a gluttonous sweet eater!
I’ll tell you how we used to “cook.” Please don’t be surprised. We did not have anything that might be used for usual cooking. Instead, we resorted to fancies. Three or four of us gather to whisper explaining the way of cooking rice, okra (ladies’ fingers), or preparing cookies!
We used to pray collectively although that was prohibited. At the bottom of the door there was a metallic mesh, one would sit near it to watch and alarm us in case any jailer comes. Once, jailers noticed that four of us were praying, they beat them in a way that prevented them from standing erect for two months. They confined them in the dormitory bath fort days.
We were not able to know the time, no watches of course, so we estimated the time of dawn prayers from the early morning birds’ songs.
Patches of blood decorated the walls. We used to clean our wounds with dirty pieces of cloth. Medicines became totally forbidden. Treatment had drastically worsened. Neither of us would dare to be a dormitory prefect because they would wear him out by beating and kicking. To avoid this, we reached an understanding to swap this role among us.
New ways of bargaining spread among us. Suppose I have an extra half a loaf of bread; I can use it for buying some olives from another prisoner. Once, inspector of the wards found some olives preserved by a prisoner. He threw them away saying:” Are you saving? The food you have is more than enough for you.”
Many times, they deprived a dormitory from food for no reason or just to save themselves distributing it. Once they gave us the share of the ward of 10 dormitories and deprived the other prisoners from food. Anyhow, the food specified for the whole ward was hardly enough for one dormitory.
We assigned two of us to distribute food. This did not solve the problem, instead it was reason for differences about the size of shares.
In the month of Holy Ramadan or in the Bairam, one would sit on the small space allowed for him, (a space of one tile and a quarter or a half, it depends on the number of prisoners in the dormitory) looks around to see all prisoners weeping, and you can just Say: “O my God, help us!”
We collected olive seeds and started amusing ourselves by playing chess or checkers on squares we drew on a dark shirt. Soon the jailers discovered that and beat us to death.
After two or three months in the prison they started taking us to a bath inside the ward, completely naked. They would enter seven or three prisoners together to a bath room and open very hot water on them. In the way to and from the bath beating does not stop. Being weak and bare foot, some of us may slip on the wet floor to be beaten with the green PVC hoses*. We always returned from the bath with wounds.
The Second Visit
Three months passed after the first visit, and they called my name for a new one on a Sunday. They escorted me to the hall, of course, after beating me mercilessly. In the hall, there was my father, my sister, my wife and the two daughters. My father was in his eighties. He begged the jailer to take care of me because I was innocent. The jailer said “Sure Ya Haj” which means “sure uncle.” They try to prove they are so kind with the prisoners. A family visit costs my family a stay in Damascus for at least twenty days to apply and follow the application at different security services. They used to hire an apartment or be hosted at some relatives during this time. That was costly and tiresome just to spend three minutes with me.
My wife asked me: “Why you don’t wear the clothes I brought you last time?” A surprising question I dare not answer. I just said: “it is better like this.” She looked at the jailers and asked: “Where are the clothes, I brought him last time? Why you didn’t give them to him?” O my God, this is a big problem, the jailer looked at me to answer. I said: “My clothes are up in the dormitory; I feel good like this.”
After the visit, this dialogue cost me a red death beating during which the jailor was repeating: “You need new clothes son of a pimp?!”
This time they gave me the bag of clothes which my wife had brought after taking only the brand-new ones leaving to me the old garments brought from my wardrobe.
I have headache now. I can realize how man can bear, wondering how we could get out safe from that hell?!!!
* Green PVC hoses are widely used in Syria in plumbing. Jailers use pieces of them to beat prisoners.