book “Sednaya Prison During The Syrian Revolution:Testimony of Muneer al-Faqeer

Rumors of pardons were abundant. We created some of them from dream interpretations or result of false analysis of some events.

August 22, 2020

book “Sednaya Prison During The Syrian Revolution:Testimony of Muneer al-Faqeer

Source: The Association of Detainees and The Missing in Sednaya Prison

Ghost of Sednayah

It was not to my knowledge that the 9th of September 2012 will be my last day in the branch of Patrols 216 close to the branch of Palestine. There, I spent three months, after four months during which I was moved between branch of Storming (Mudahama) and the Administrative “branch 291.” All these branches belong to the Military Security Service.

In that day, they called me, with other “prisoners of my case” a term used to describe those arrested on one legal case. They returned us to “branch 291” where we were received with a brutal reception party. They took us to a basement, to the section of personnel where they obliged us to sign papers without even knowing their content. They gave us the deposits which we had when they arrested us and then put us in a room where we found many sugar bags, which were a spark of pleasure alluring us of eating as much as we could of it after a chronic hunger.

A staff sergeant came to take us to a dormitory. We noticed that the branch was rearranged during the past few months, the country had entered a state of war. In the past time I was there the dormitory was occupied by 60-70 prisoners, now every dormitory is crammed with about 120 prisoners. They had no place for us, the new arrivals, so they put us in the corridors to be kicked by the jailers on their way in and out, threatening us of execution and cursing us with the meanest words.

At that time, we had not any idea of our destiny. We met one of the prisoners who was brought several months ago from the prison of Sednayah to be investigated again. He told us horrible stories about the situation in the prison of Sednayah, which we did not take them seriously. It was out of our mind to believe that that the crimes committed in the prison of Palmyra after the turmoil of the eighties would be repeated again.[1]

After a while they called us, handcuffed our hands to our backs, put us in a van and started beating us with rifle butts all the way to the building of the military courts which we hoped the judges will order setting us free as they used to do in the first months of the revolution. I am from Damascus and was able to estimate that the van had arrived at barracks of the military police in Qaboun. The staff sergeant in charge of us talked to the guards at the entrance and we understood that they will report us to the field court. It was a shock we couldn’t believe, we convinced ourselves that either another group of prisoners was meant by that or we hadn’t heard them right. At the door of the court another brutal reception was waiting for us. They entered us into the personnel section of the court where they put our finger prints on papers we couldn’t even see because our hands were cuffed to our backs. Before entering us to the hall of the court they asked each one of us a few quick questions in not more than two to three minutes. Then they took us to the prison of the military police which was of two dormitories with about 200 detainees waiting to be deported to other places. The prison was a temporary place of residence, or rather a waiting station for those who will be distributed to other detention centers.

Prisoners’ speeches usually focus on two issues: the situation outside the prison and their future, their destiny. After we lost hope of being set free, we diverted our communications with some of the prisoners about cases similar to ours in order to compare our situation with them. We were told that deporting us to the prison of Sednayah is a great possibility, but again we lied to ourselves; Why sending us to Sednayah since we are not more than peaceful protesters? Until that time, we have heard a lot about that prison, and we were keen to know the difference between the red building and the white one although this was not of our business, because we, out of our good will, “decided” to go to another prison, like Damascus Central Prison in Adra, or to a prison like it.

In the morning of the following day they called the names of all the prisoners in our dormitory and divided us into two groups: Hands of the prisoners of the first group were cuffed forward, ad their heads remained up as usual and they took them away. We, the twenty-seven prisoners of the second group “of our same case and other cases” related to the revolution, brought from several security branches, handcuffed us, hands to the back, obliged us to look down and blinded our eyes. The young man in front of me was courageous enough to ask one of the military police: “Where are we going now?”  The answer was: “To the prison of Sednayah. May God help you!”

When they lined us waiting our turn to get in the “Meat Vehicle” with the closed box especially prepared to transport prisoners, I told my colleagues the bad news. It was a shock for me and for every one of us, we were fully assured that Syria was returned back to the years of the eighties.

In the vehicle we started to cry and recall what we had heard about this prison and did not believe it. In the vehicle, with us, there was a prisoner who had been returned back from the hospital to the prison. He told us more detailed stories about life in the prison. I was the eldest among the prisoners, born in 1979, ten years before the oldest of them. I tried to stick together and to encourage them saying: “Hold on- Be strong” and proposed to recite texts of the Quran and pray during the long journey to the prison.

In the Prison

We arrived at the first gate, heard the sound of the little widow of the vehicle opened and closed again. We felt that the guards wanted to be sure of the load of the vehicle which will be allowed to go into the building. The vehicle stopped at a check point which we believed it is the entrance of the white building, but it stopped in front of the red building which we realized later that it is the worst.

The terrifying calm was interrupted by sounds of running feet and human beings approaching the vehicle and climbing its iron steps, a soldier opened the little window and shouted: “Get down you whores… more impolite curses” as if reciting a poem. Our eyes were still blinded, we rolled on the vehicle’s steps, some of us fell on the ground hurting a face, a back or a hand. Others had their clothes torn or shoes thrown away. A beating session started. Our main concern was not to let the blind on our eyes fall down, because the blind of one of us slipped down from his eyes and he was rewarded with double beating.

I remember that we walked about five meters, climbed two stairs, and then entered a corridor. There, they ordered us to take the position of prostration with our foreheads touching the ground, and started beating us brutally by green water PVC tubes they called “Lakhdar Brahimi.”[2] The day before we heard of it. Beating was horribly painful.

The military police who escorted us from Qaboun took off the handcuffs from our hands peacefully, handed us to the prison jailers who also belong to the military police, and left. The prison jailers ordered us to blind our eyes by lifting up and forward our sweaters or shirts to cover our heads. They started giving us the rules of the prison. Each one should cover his eyes with his clothes in the way they ordered us, and to put our palms, not fingers, on our eyes in a way not to see any of the jailers and recognize him. Blinding eyes here is personal, who violates the rules his eyes will be gouged out.

They obliged us to take our shoes off and to handle our possessions to the deposits section, under continuous beating while registering our IDs, personal names, father’s name and name of the “whore” one’s mother, or you will be beaten. When the jailer asked to mention the name of the whore, I responded objectively by “What?” and he struck me with Lakhdar Brahimi, repeating the question. I ignored him; he beat me again repeating the same words. I told him the name of my mother.

During the reception, some prisoners; like doctors, engineers in particular, lawyers, officers and journalists are treated in a distinguished way. They were tortured in an artistic way reflecting the feelings of hatred the jailers have towards them, being inferior to them. In fact, one can easily notice series of complexes they have: they are sectarian, regionalists and bearing hatred towards classes of the society. They were, illiterate and young; between 18-20 years old. They reflect their feelings of animosity especially towards those who have scientific degrees, social positions, well to do people or those older than they are…Even athletes incite their hatred to an extent they want break their heads, i.e. humiliate them.

Some of the prisoners declared their true careers, to be double tortured. I concealed my degree in engineering and told them that I am a computer electrician, and so they registered me.

Ali, one of the members of our case, was a professional basketball player. He was immense, they kept him back while we entered the cells, in order to practice their talents of torture on him. They beat him hard and rode on his back moving from one side to another just to humiliate him. He was good hearted, respectable and delicate. This treatment broke his pride. After two months, his body refused food out of his desire to die evading this deadly treatment.

It was clear that administration of the prison gave jailers absolute freedom to torture prisoners. We understood, from our experience in the branches of security and the prison of Sednayah that every action is systematic and executed by specific orders and instructions.

After handling our deposits and registering our personal information, it was time to be taught the lesson of the “train,” which means bowing down, each one holds the waist of the one in front of him, and faces looking down. They led us down on a steep stairway, the distance between steps is 20-25 cm. Maybe this was the only case prisoners were not beaten in the prison of Sednayah while getting up or down the stairways taking the position of a train in order to avoid slipping of any of the prisoners which will create chaos and pull all the prisoners down.

In the Cell

Jailers continued repeating “get downstairs…get downstairs” until we reached cells, where new prisoners are jailed. In the space between cells one of the jailers ordered us to take off our clothes: “In three counts you must be nude like when you got down from the……. of your mothers.” When he finished counting, we all were totally nude, those who hesitated to take off all of their clothes were beaten to bleeding. The jailer ordered us to lay down on our bellies and to raise our feet up saying that each one of us will have 10 strikes, if he utters a sound counting will rise up to 100. I am fully sure that they were not satisfied by only 10 strikes. It is true that the number did not reach 100 but numbers of strikes were high.

Methodology of torture in the prison of Sednayah is different from that in the security branches where torture is practiced mainly to get information, to humiliate and to revenge. But here, it is different; torture is practiced just for torture. The prison of Sednayah was specialized for punishing the Syrian revolution. In the security branches a jailer continues beating until he has the required information, regardless of being true or false. If beating is punishment for disobedience of orders or for a problem in the dormitory, or any other reason, it will continue until the prisoner shouts of pain because prisoner’s abstention from crying is considered a challenge to the beater. But here, in Sednayah, it is the opposite, if you shout, punishment will be doubled. A prisoner should receive beating silently.

After the beating ceremony, a jailer shouted “All Up,” we stood up, they inserted each nine of us in a square cell 2 * 2 m, with a toilet occupying one third of the area of the cell and separated by a wall. In the first night they jammed all the nine of us in the toilet ordering us to keep silent. Banning speaking was a punishment which continued with us during our stay in Sednayah.

Clothes of each group were brought and dropped at the door of the cell. They were inspecting them when they heard our low voices inside trying to arrange the standing of the nine of us in that suffocating space. They ordered us to extend our hands one after one from the little window at the bottom of the door to beat us.

One of the jailers shouted reciting the instructions of the prison: “Here… everything is done by orders…you eat by an order, you drink by an order, you sleep by an order and you wake up by an order. Any individual act will be severely punished. No Talks, no whispers. Whenever you hear any movement in the corridor you must take the position of squatting, not standing, inside the cell. From now on you are sons of whores.” To be sure of our obedience he asked us one by one who we are, and every one replied by the typical answer, “We are sons of whores.”  In one cell the reply was not loud and enthusiastic as they wanted it, all prisoners were punished for their looseness in the reply.

 In each cell there was a bowel. Prisoners put the empty bowel out in the morning. When food is distributed, they receive another one, or sometimes receive the same bowel again. When we entered our cell, we found a bowel full of soapy water. It seemed one of the former prisoners had been washing his clothes in it when he was ordered to leave the cell.

The first night passed, but it was impossible for all of us to sleep in that little space, so some of us got out to the cell itself and slept there. It was totally forbidden to do that but, fortunately, no one noticed.

In the morning of the following day the cell door was open and they threw bags of our clothes. That was a memorable moment of joy.

A few minutes later we heard jailers throwing bags of bread at the doors of the cells. Then they ordered us to put the bowels out from the little window at the bottom of the door. I volunteered to do this job and extended my hand from the window to be beaten because I was not quick enough to do that. We started to learn the rules of the prison which were always accompanied by beating. Because of a former injury in my hand, my colleagues decided that I do not put the empty bowel out or the full one in, because this was always accompanied by beating on the hands. I refused, and in the third day I was keen to put out the empty bowel as quickly as possible, I succeeded, but I failed to enter the full one. It was mandatory to do that in parts of a second.  I did that, but in that day, it has potatoes in the bottom covered with rice and jam on top. During drawing it from the little window, some jam touched the upper side of the window. The jailer said “Extend your hand” he beat it and said “Clean the door.”  During wiping the external iron edge, he started pressing my hand with his boots until it bled.

We understood that new comers to the prison of Sednayah should spend two weeks to six months in the cells of the prison before being moved to the dormitories upstairs. Our group spent five months in the cell which were totally difficult. Those brought from the civil prison of Adra had special treatment mixed with unusual threats: “Coming from Adra, you dogs? You were happy there; here you will forget the name of Adra.” This was negatively reflected on us although we were brought from the security detention centers. The group with which we came were brought from the prison of Adra, some of them were accused of arranging a mutiny there, so we were treated like them in the reception party and in the long duration of staying in the cells.

Dailies of the Cell:

The colleagues elected me prefect of the cell. In the second day we decided to put a plan for our daily life which we didn’t know how much it will take in the cell. In the first day we didn’t pray, or we prayed singly, standing and totally nude. In the second day we decided to divide our prayers as following: Dawn prayer, noon and afternoon prayers together, and so the sunset and evening prayers. We didn’t know the direction of the Kiblah, but we estimated it randomly.[3] There will come a day when we will go to the prison of Sednayah as visitors to check whether we had estimated the right direction of Kiblah, the Kaaba.  We decided to pray seated towards the wall opposite the door, if a jailer showed up, he will find us in the required position. We prayed collectively, not singly. These days were the days we felt that we were closer to Allah (God), more than any other days of our life. We practiced hymns regularly, we arranged a schedule for learning and reviewing the Quran by heart, so we learnt many of its chapters. Many of the texts helped us raise our morale to help each other, and encouraged us to steadfast and insist on bearing the idea of justice, which highly empowered us to bear the atrocities committed against us in the prison. We repeated some of the chapters continuously: al-Mulk in the morning, al-Waqia in the evening and al-Kahf on Fridays.[4] I remember that once we forgot al-Mulk surah. One of us slept for a while and had a dream of a prisoner trying to beat us with Lakhdar Brahimi, but failed to do that. so, he told him angrily: “stop reciting that surah because it prevents me from beating you,” After that, we were keen to recite that surah in particular. Amazingly, when any of us forgets to read it he was punished!

We realized that water was running in the pipes and there was a small bar of soap, we started washing alternatively in the toilet with utmost secrecy, because if they hear the sound of water and that we are washing without permission, the punishment will be great.

To sleep we told Ali to sleep in the toilet because of his immense body. It was only possible for six of us to sleep on the floor of the cell alternating face to feet and vice versa, with two prisoners remain standing, also alternatively. Contact of our bodies helped us finding some warm but to sleep on one side for long hours, without being able to move was really exhausting.

All the prisoners in al-Assad prisons have developed a belief in dreams, or let me say most of them. regardless of their cultural or educational level. Usually a prisoner always searches for a certain kind of support. So, in every cell or dormitory appears a dream interpreter, even if he hadn’t the background of that practice before. Usually he inherits this “experience” from a former prisoner who preceded him and was released from the prison for some reason or another. A dream interpreter interprets dreams according to fixed constants; if you see that you were at a school or at a mosque, this is the prison, if you leave the school or the mosque this means you will be set free… there is an abundance of details former prisoners know them very well.

In our case, the dream interpreter remained in the prison of the security branch. We learnt a lot from him, so we created a daily program titled “I had a dream” to be performed after breakfast. Each of us would tell what he had dreamt of the night before, and we all exchanged interpretation due to the absence of an authorized interpreter, depending on what we had heard from this or that interpreter in the branches. It was an amusing episode in which we conditioned not to have words about foods or drinks, believing that seeing them in the dreams is a reflection of the will of the dreamer to have them. We also dropped the dreams of being set free, because they come out of a burning desire to make it true. Generally, we preferred dreams with symbols far from the routines of our daily life.

Immediately after waking up we support our faith spiritually with prayers and hymns, followed by a physical support, food, and a psychological support from the dream episode. To busy ourselves, one of us started lecturing about any subject he knows better than the others. We arranged turns for reciting verses from the holy Quran, a course about the modern history of Syria, which many of the revolution youth know nothing about it because their families avoided talking about the past for reasons related to security. Daily, we opened debates about the Syrian revolution to evaluate its latest events.  Of course, all of these activities were practiced in whispers and in short times, fifteen or maximum thirty minutes for each. The largest part of our time was dedicated to caution, attention and awareness of the sounds coming from outside the cells, and always in the position of squatting expecting the moment when the door of the cell opens up.

One of the terrifying moments for a prisoner is hearing the sound of the door or the lower window being opened followed by the voice of the jailer: “Hey, you pimps, each one of you extends his hand.” We should extend our hands one after the other to be beaten. Sometimes jailers used to take off their heavy boots and step toe to listen if any of us was whispering. Suddenly, silence is cut by a sound coming from the window ordering: “your hands.”  In this case we have to extend our hands consecutively to receive beatings. The sound of the window of another cell was always an alarm of a terrifying action, taking prisoners to places only God knows of them.

Sometimes a jailer asks prisoners to get their heads not hands, from the little window and starts beating the prisoner. In other occasions he orders legs to be extended, he tied them to the handle of the door so that the upper edge of the window presses the legs causing additional pain to that of beating. Once, a jailer ordered prisoners of a close cell to extend their hands one after the other. From inside the cell he heard the voice of a man from Baniyas, to whom we were introduced later in the dormitory, saying: “My son I am an old man…I am fifty-five years old.” The jailer said: “An old man! OK, one cable for each year.” And so, he did. Later, the old man died, may God bless his soul.

In spite of this awful life, there were beautiful sounds, sound of water running through the pipes after long dryness. The sound of bread bags being thrown at the doors of the cells in the morning. These sounds were symphonies to the ears of the hungry prisoners and melodies of life for which we always thanked God to hear them. Once a fierce battle took place between the armed opposition and the regime forces, on the road leading to the prison, so food was cut off from us.

Gradually we could distinguish if the bread bag thrown at the door of the cell was complete (8 loaves) or missing some loaves, just from the sound it gives when falling on the ground. One of the beautiful sounds we used to listen to, was the sound of birds which pacified our feelings of isolation. Unfortunately, cells on the other side of the ward were deprived from these sounds, including the sounds of corn beans being cracked when the criminals outside prepare popcorn for themselves. We used to smell it.  It was agreeable in one hand but annoying in another. It reminded us of popcorn, smelled it on fire while we are starving due the meagre quantities of food offered to us. Normally, the share of a prisoner is no more than two spoonful of bad cooked rice, we even hear its sound when putting it in the bowels, as if it is raw, not cooked. The share of a prisoner from olive is no more than half, or in the best cases, one complete olive mostly flavored with diesel oil. We had been victims of a real famine. The share of the nine of us can hardly suffice an average man. Therefore, we were obliged to eat the green leaves which come mixed with olive, or oranges, shell of eggs which we discovered that it was very tasty, not forgetting potato skin.

In the cells there were nothing to busy or entertain us; only solid walls and the hard tiled floor. I tried to invent something new being an information technology engineer. I used to write, with my finger, some equations and programs, and when possible occupy one quarter of a tile to write my memories on it, of course virtually, because we had not any means to write with, we rather registered it in our minds.

In the neighboring cell, despite the rarity of food, they saved part of it, kneaded it again and made pieces of Dhama (draughts)[5] from it to fill their time. When the jailers discovered that they punished the prisoners by drenching their cell with water in a freezing time of the year.  That punishment continued for three days and was only lifted after the death of one of the prisoners. In another cell, there was a young man who always begged jailers not to beat him. Every time a jailer asked him to stretch his hand he refused saying “For God’s sake sir, don’t beat me.” Every time he said that or a similar sentence, the jailer would curse God. After some time, the jailer got angry, took him away saying: “Come with me I’ll take you to Israel.”[6] He really did, he took him away and the prisoner never returned… The jailer came back to the cell and said “Did you see what will happen to the one who speaks a lot? He goes in a one-way trip with Israel, and at the same time he leaves an extra space for his companions.”

Our cell has two great advantages; the first is a hole from which we could see faces of the criminals, columns smeared with the blood of those who were here before us and our bloods. I still keep secret the number of the cell in order not to be publicized and they close the hole, there will be someone who could benefit from that hole in the future. The second is the faithful atmosphere which granted us secret protection.

Once they decided to torture all the prisoners of the cells. We were in January, and temperature was -5. It was night when jailers started opening door windows of the cells calling the prefects: “You pimps of the cells, tell everyone to take off his clothes totally naked, collect their clothes and put them out. You too take off your clothes and put them out.” When all were naked, he ordered them to lie on the ground head to feet and feet to head. I said before that the cell was too small, therefore we sleep alternatively. This time the jailer ordered them to lie on the ground close to each other although this was very difficult. Then he ordered the prefect to open the tap to cover the floor with cold water. Even if the jailer leaves the cell, water should continue flooding until a prisoner dies. When we heard the cries in that day, I whispered to my colleagues to invoke God to protect us. Indeed, when the jailer arrived at our cell, he opened the little window and looked at us. We were awake but pretended to be in a sound sleep. He gazed at us for a long time, closed the little window and went away.

We were nine in the cell, seven of us were from Damascus, so we had many visits, with each one we asked our families to double the number of clothes to satisfy all of us. We were clothed sufficiently with several layers. One day jailers threw to us a hair cutting machine linked with a cable outside the cell and ordered us to help each other cutting our hair. We took off our clothes, piled them on each other to reach the ceiling. When the jailer opened the little window, he was surprised. He was from the eastern region and used to become a criminal in the company of Alawite jailers, but when he is alone, he is reasonably satisfied by cursing only without beating. He asked us about the source of these clothes pretending anger and promising of depriving us from visits, something was not in his authority, and said he would ask for some clothes for those who have nothing to cover their bodies. We agreed enthusiastically because most of the prisoners were nude, or in the best cases, half nude, may be for months. In the following days we used to put what we can dispense of these clothes in the corner. Many times, we heard the same jailer asking a prisoner “You…Why aren’t you dressed up?” then he comes to our cell asking for a shirt or a sweater. Thank God, by so, we could help several prisoners in other cells.

One day, a prisoner from our cell was called for a visit. He availed the opportunity and told the same jailer: “Sir, we have spent more than five months in the cell. You told us you will made us forget the prison of Adra, basically we didn’t come from Adra, we just came by chance in the same vehicle transporting Adra prisoners.” The jailer said nothing and went to tell his commander that. After a few days they decided to move us to the dormitories appreciating our behavior during the past five months, describing our cell the “ideal” one.

I previously said that there were seven prisoners of the same case in the cell, and two more who came from the prison of the military police in Qaboun. In the cell we lived together for five months during which we knew every minute detail about each other including the private family stories, but because of deep darkness of the cell we couldn’t identify their faces, and they couldn’t see ours unless we entered the dormitory. There we started asking each other, who are you? Are you ….?

Battle of Hunger:

I proposed something to my friends which I had called the “battle of hunger,” urging them to manage that struggle wisely to conquer hunger. Although I had an appetite higher that they have, and was fatter than most of them before the prison, they were less patient because of their young age. They couldn’t bear saving any of the little food we were given. I, myself, decided to keep some bread for the night to have a dinner every evening. Moments of waiting dinner, which mostly was just bread, was one of the most joyful moments. Every evening I used to tell myself: “After a few moments I shall eat” as if I was invited to a banquet in one of the most prestigious restaurants in Damascus.

One day I saved half a quarter of a loaf of bread for dinner. I put it in a plastic bag behind the water tank so that the jailer can’t see it if he enters the cell, and because there was no other place to hide it. I said we used to sleep alternatively. There was, with us, a Salafist young man who was killed later. In that day he was hungry, did I say hungry? When we were not hungry? So, let me say that hunger bit him severely that night and couldn’t sleep in the time I was sleeping dreaming of eating the piece of bread I had saved. When my turn came to wake up, I got up, went to the bathroom to bring the bag of bread to find it empty. In the morning I asked my colleagues about it, no body answered, but he tried to change the subject. I said I shall never forget the man who deprived me of the piece of bread which my stomach was squeaking dreaming of it. He tried to silence me and began to cry, I couldn’t utter any more words, sure had he not been starving he wouldn’t have eaten that tiny piece of bread.

The man assigned to distribute food shares should be just, accurate and honest, because no one was ready to let go even a leaf of a lemon tree or the skin of an orange slice. Everyone needs everything to help him survive and stand on his feet. Most of the differences between prisoners were centered about distributing food. Once two prisoners got angry with the rest of us and decided to eat by themselves, in the corner of a cell 1.5 m long. Later they apologized and pledged to give part of their share to a colleague every day.  Once they offered a rice sandwich, the length of one finger, the next time they offered an olive, and so on.

Out of deep hunger, whether in the cells or later in the dormitories, we started dreaming of food. Dreams developed into courses of learning cooking.  I didn’t ever try to cook in my life, but now we decided to teach each other whatever we know about food recipes. We dreamt of food exactly like, forgive me for this example, having dreams of sex. We imagined kinds of food and were tasting them virtually. In the night we felt the taste of the imagined food in our mouths. For example, I adore Shakriyeh.[7] Because I always spoke about it, court it and imagined it, many times I woke up with its taste in my mouth as if I had just eaten it.

In the cell, there was with us a young man from Latakia, later he was killed, and in the dormitory, there were several men from Baniyas, both are coastal cities. These two young men described to us methods of fishing, kinds of fish and ways of cooking it. We were in bad need to such courses to fill our days with something amusing. Many times, debates heated over the best dishes in every city or region. Rivalry was strong between the cuisines of Damascus and Aleppo, particularly about “Sheikh al-Mehshi.”[8] Voices rise high and discussions heat up but those were the happiest moments in the prison. Why not? Aren’t they about food, the source of life? In a certain stage of imprisonment, one’s brain ceases thinking of being set free, and of thinking of women, but it keeps thinking of one desire only: “I want to eat!”

Once we thought of how confectioners prepare the twisted kunafeh, the baklava and other oriental sweets. No one of us had an idea about that, we started guessing, in that day one of us was called for a visit. When his family asked him about himself, he wanted to please them saying that he is fine to an extent of thinking of baklava, twisted kunafeh and harissa. I was called for a visit immediately after him. When jailers escorted me back, I saw him laid on the door of the cell and being beaten just because talking is prohibited in the cells, add to that he was “insolent” to the degree of speaking about baklava and Nammoura.[9]

During our stay in the cell we didn’t eat any kind of meat, but in the dormitories, they were bounteous enough to offer us a strange kind of chicken of which I remember only the skin and the bones.

In our first day in the dormitory I saw a prisoner with his head rattling inside the trash bin in the bath room. I realized that he was eating the remains of bones. At that time, he surprised me, but later I was obliged to eat, sell and buy the bones.

When cells put their bowels out to be filled with food, jailers collect them in the middle of the corridor, put potato, rice and jam together in the bowels which were too small to have sufficient foods to satisfy nine men.

Personnel of forced labor are assigned of distributing food. Usually they are prisoners for violating military rules serving in the white building. From a hole in the door of the cell we saw one of them in the corridor with an empty can of jam in his hand. He still had two bowels to supply with jam. He didn’t know what to do, he thought a little, then he spat in the can, shook it to mix his saliva with the remains of the jam, and distributed the product on the two remaining bowels. We couldn’t know if one of the two was ours, but we ate the content. It was unreasonable to exclude jam because it is a basic material of sugar which helps us survive. The meal with jam was a social event, but can’t be compared with halawa[10] which was of the worst kinds. No one would accept to buy it, for us it was a treasure. In the most important rare opportunities we were served baklava, especially in national days, Day of the Army, the anniversary of the Baath party holding power in the 8th of March 1963. Each prisoner receives a small portion of the bad halawa, but it was delicious.

Ali, the immense young man I told you about, owned a women fashion shop in one of the classist neighborhoods of Damascus. He was of fortune and couldn’t adapt with prisons dirty food. He was shocked of the kinds of food, suffered of severe dehydration and diarrhea, vomited everything which entered his stomach until he died of hunger.

In the dormitories they always intended to pour food on the floor, tread in it with their boots to subjugate us or because of their anger of what is happening out of the prison. In our cell there was a pharmacist who had an important position in the branch of an American medical company in Damascus. We had elected him to distribute food for his interest in cleanliness. One day, jailers entered us food, while we were squatting, faces to the wall and our hands covering our eyes. The pharmacist saw them putting the bowel of food near the bathroom which was 10 cm higher than the ground of the dormitory. They skimmed the water on the floor of the bathroom and toilet and added it to our food of lentil soup and rice, they poured the food on the ground, tread it and pressed the six eggs they had brought for 25 persons and left. After sometime we turned our faces, no one had seen what happened except that man who was busy distributing shares of food as usual. After he was sure that we ate everything he told us what happened. Some of us got angry with him because he didn’t tell us before. He said that he had concealed it to enable us to have food, otherwise we would starve.

Once a jailer asked us: “Who doesn’t like the food?” It was the first time we hear someone speaking to us kindly in Sednayah which allured one of us to speak. We signed to him to keep silent, because we can’t trust jailers. It took us some time to calm him and to say that the food was good. In other cells prisoners fell in the trap and expressed their dissatisfaction to pay a high price extending their hands and legs to be beaten brutally.

Deprivation of food was easy for the jailers and for any reason. If the prefect is late in snatching the bowel of food, they beat his hands, take the bowel and deprive all of the cell from food for two or three days.

As I said before, our cell was distinguished by having a discrete hole in the door through which we could see them giving two opposite cells larger bowels with relatively larger quantities of food. In the dormitories we crossed our information with others who told us that there were distinguished, privileged or dangerous prisoners. We doubted that Lt. Colonel Hussein Harmoush, the famous defector officer was in one of these cells.

Water outages:

Many times, we had water outages, and when it ran again, we used to bath in the toilet with very cold water. Soap was rare, they give all the cell one quarter of a bar of soap. During our stay in the cell water was cut off for a long time twice, and in the dormitories once or twice. In both cases, we were about to die of thirst. The toilet was filled with feces. Fortunately, we had not much of that because of the chronic shortage of food. We cleaned ourselves with pieces of cloth cut from our shirts.

Once, water cottage continued for a long time, and our feeling of thirst reached unprecedented levels. In the horrible silence of the cells we heard one of the prisoners calling slowly “water…water.” Another one from another cell repeated: “water.” A third did the same. A prisoner from our cell was encouraged, he started shouting: “Water-Water-Water….” Uninterruptedly, suddenly all the prisoners repeated after him with one voice: “Water, water ….” Jailers hurried to see what is happening, we felt that an important person was among them, probably the director or his deputy. He shouted at us: “Shut up, shut up, I’ll cut water for one month, I’ll let you die of thirst.” We thought that he was serious, but after about fifteen minutes we heard sounds of rapping and tapping of water tanks carried by soldiers running down the stairs to our cells. They ordered us to give them the bowels, and they filled them with water. Unfortunately, the bowel we have had a hole, so half the amount of water spilled on the ground and we drank only half the amount given to us, then we started licking the dirty spilled water on the ground.

In times of long outage of water, some of it remains in the pipes, which many times, initiated battles among the cells to suck the little drops in the pipes through the hose of the toilet.

Many times, toilets broke and blocked for one reason or another, especially in the cells, and dirt runs out to the cells. Such a problem may continue for days instigating the jailers to get the prisoners out of the cell, beat them, and repair the toilets. Once, for no reason, tap of the toilet broke in the hands of a prisoner, he was brutally punished.

Sometimes administration of the prison cut the water intendedly, or due to a defect in the pipes carrying water to the prison or to the whole region. Once water was cut intendedly until we exhausted of thirst.  For unknown reasons jailers wanted to punish a cell by soaking it with water. They usually do that by pouring water in the cell through the little window of the door. Because the cell has no gutter, water rose to the height of the toilet which is 5 cm higher than the floor of the cell, allowing water of the toilet, including human wastes, to mix with that on the floor of the cell. The jailer continues pouring water not knowing what is happening inside the dark cell.  A smart prisoner put the bowel at the window inside the cell to fill it with water. The prisoners drank the water and filled the bowel several times. With the last tank poured in the bowel the jailer realized what was happening, “You are filling water you pimp” and started beating him until he started bleeding. In spite of this, he, and his cell mates were glad of their “Victory.”

Yes, in some cases we felt that we are victorious! Once, the regime’s situation outside the prison was threatening, battles reached the gates of the prison of Sednayah, and a shell fell inside the prison. Jailers were very tense and started punishing us for no reason. Electricity was cut because a shell hit the cables outside. One of them came shouting: “who asked why electricity was cut?” None of us said that, we were in the dormitories, so we said “May be someone in the other dormitory.” He accused all the dormitories and punished them one after one mercilessly. We laughed silently though we know that such punishment might cause the death of some of us, out of our belief that what angered them are our brothers who were tightening the rope on their necks outside the prison.

Trade of Food

I have known this trade in my last days in the prisons of the security branches, and I practiced it again in the prison of Sednayah, and understood that it was common in the various dormitories of the prison. This trade means that prisoners buy and sell some of their extra food shares using a bread coin, whose value goes up and down according to the available quantities in the “market,” the dormitories. Daily bread share of the individual is between half and one and a quarter loaf of bread. Once, for unknown reasons, they rewarded us with a bigger share, two loaves for each of us, a precedent that was not repeated.

Food was brought in a small bowel to the cells, and in two; medium and large bowels, to the dormitories because they have larger numbers of prisoners. In the large bowel they put a quantity of rice hardly can suffice 25-30 prisoners of the dormitory. On rice they put sauce and 2-3 pieces of potatoes and eggs. In the smaller bowel they put lentil soup and orange.

In each dormitory two persons, usually elected for their accuracy and cleanliness, distribute food. The rest of the prisoners are divided into groups to facilitate distribution, each group has a head assigned to distribute food on his group mates, by so, food is distributed equally. Here the trade starts, for example, jam is highly required to supply the body with sugar, but some do not like it and prefer to sell their share, which is no more than a spoonful, for one loaf of bread. A piece of halawa is sold for one and a half loaf … it was expensive, so was a piece of baklava, which is very rare. Chicken was expensive too.  A share of rice is usually sold for three quarters of a loaf, depending on the state of the market. Differences might arise in the market, which means that the prefect should intervene to solve them, to unify prices in the dormitory, and to control rivalry.

One of us was a merchant, so he was appointed as an evaluator and arbitrator. For example, they give one orange, sometimes two, to all the prisoners of the dormitory. The orange might be large or small, it depends, here the arbitrator should define the price of orange share in that day. His evaluation is generally accepted and the list of his prices is accredited. In this trade, some prisoners did very well, others were subject to losses. The trade developed to have a branch for debts and accounts. One of us once said: “I have an account of two bags of bread” which was a real fortune. Others used to buy food in credits, eat it immediately, and day by day they became indebted and were obliged to spend days in hunger. The dormitory prefect intervened and prohibited treatment with some prisoners who were unable to manage their resources wisely. He prevented them from buying and selling to enable them to eat their shares regularly.

Trade of food developed into an operation of composite sale. A sandwich of “halawa” for example, or a certain mix of foods invented from the ingredients of the meal, like mixing egg with chicken meat or with diluted yoghurt, were sold for alluring profitable prices. When the prefect prohibited this trade, prisoners practiced it discretely under the blankets, until it was revealed and strictly prohibited.

Some groups devised what they called “Food Project.” It means saving and accumulating foods, and buying foods in credit for a definite day, usually distinguished with sufficient food. That day was a real celebration as if one is released from prison.

The last thing I remember about food is the turn of cleaning the bowels. After distributing foods, one of us is usually assigned to wash the bowels. He wipes them thoroughly to save the remains, any remains, margarine, salt …whatever, to eat them later with his food. That was done alternatively and an opportunity for rivalry.

Whatever the level of fraternity among prisoners, the common life of prison, and the belief of the revolution was, differences among prisoners about trifle things, like a food share or the individual’s area in the dormitory are inevitable. Altruism is difficult in cases like these unless the individual is of a high level of morality and good conduct.

Dailies of the Dormitories:

If the door of the dormitory is opened, and the jailers are moving around, we should stay squatting, faces to the wall opposite the door. If anyone opens the window and notices that you are going to take the required position, he will understand that you were not ready, and you will be punished brutally. When the door of the dormitory is closed, we feel free to move and even to practice sport if possible.

Prayers in the prison of Sednayah, singly or collectively, are definitely prohibited. Their punishment is unbearable. If any prisoner is detected praying, he will be punished by moving him to the cells. If he is essentially in the cell, they might kill him. Therefore, we used to pray secretly, with our eyes or with the least of movements. Sometimes we prayed in the night when we knew that they had slept.

We fasted in Ramadan and in other months. In fact, all our life was continuous fasting. Many times, the only meal arrived after sunset. Generally fasting is less dangerous than praying which denotes that you are a Sunni.

Jailers select prefects of dormitories. Some of them treat their mates in a bad way, others in a very prestigious way. When jailers enter, we, all, should be squatting in several rows, our hands covering our eyes, behind us the prefect himself in the same position. To his right, squat the punished prisoners wearing only their under wear. Jailers usually start beating the prefect first, and may kill him, then they start beating the punished prisoners or anyone who moves in their presence, many times for no reason.

In the first days in the dormitory, our prefect was a young good man from Qalamun.  Later, they brought a man named “Shadi Said.” He was a popular singer, originally from Aleppo, but living in Latakia. He told us that he allured a security staff sergeant to join the Free Syrian Army, only for money. The deal was detected and he was arrested. When we were in the cells, we listened to a dialogue between Shadi, who introduced himself as a singer, and another prisoner. When the jailer asked him to prove his talent as a singer, he sang a verse praising Bashar al-Assad. When they moved him from the cell to the dormitory he was in a miserable state. We sympathized with him and gave him some clothes. When he was appointed prefect, he started bullying and threatening us.

We adopted a certain rule to distribute the extra clothes to those who need them more; the naked has priority to those who just want them to feel warm. When everyone is satisfied, the prisoner can sell his extra pieces of clothes for two loaves of bread.

Groupings in dormitories are usually formed on regional bases. Prisoners from Damascus, Idlib or Latakia, with one or two from other regions would form a group. The common accent of the jailers is the Alawite, but we could distinguish between real Alawites and those who impersonate themselves as Alawites to bully us, like what Shadi had done to become a prefect. Because all the prisoners we met were Sunnis, this regionalist discrimination created discrete violent reactions suppressed in the hearts of the prisoners.

A jailer might come in the night usually calling: “Pimps of the dormitories” to hear voices of the prefects responding: “Yes sir.” “I have heard a sound.” If they deny that, they will hear him saying: “I don’t lie!! I heard sounds! Tomorrow I want five from every dormitory.” If the prefect abstains from giving names he will be beaten brutally, probably to death. So, he was obliged to select victims by turn. The prefect must invent a guilt for every prisoner selected to be punished, because the jailer will ask the prisoner: “What did you do?” and the prisoner should mention a guilt he had or had not done. Guilts are so trivial, like passing the separation line between the bath room and the space of the dormitory, or approaching the door of the dormitory which is a great crime. Talking or whispering is also a guilt which deserves a punishment. The prisoner has to choose a guilt to be punished for, which might lead him to death.

Once, I was selected with those to be punished. They used Lakhdar Brahimi, but this time it was 5 inches’ diameter. They beat me on the head, I lost consciousness several times. They did not beat the group all together, rather they beat one after one, while they were a group. After being beaten, one should creep to be crammed in the toilet. When I arrived there a prisoner had arrived before me. I remember that we both were bleeding and our bloods mixed in the toilet pot. When the jailers left the dormitory, our mates hurried to wipe blood from our bodies.

Once, after beating the selected five prisoners, jailers ordered them to stay in the bath room. If any of them goes out all the dormitory will be punished. We abided by that as much as the door of the dormitory was opened. We got our mates out when the door was closed. Even this was not totally safe because jailers, sometimes, pretend closing the door, but stay inside to see what we are doing.

 In the dormitory we have two prisoners who spent eight months in the cells. They were frightening, their skins were black because of a certain disease. Their bodies were totally covered by scabies ulcerations. Each one weighs about 35 kg. They shivered continuously; they were nearly separated from their environment unable to talk properly. Prisoners of the dormitory took care of them until they died. We understood that they were members of the “Muslim Brothers” who returned from Iraq in a reconciliation agreement which did not prevent arresting them after the revolution.

Like in the cells, water was cut several times in the dormitory. We used to climb to the water tank in the bath room, tilt it down to have the few drops of water remaining in it mixed with grains of sand. Once, water cutting continued longer than usual and thirst dried our veins to an extent that water trade spread in the prison. Jailers used to bring us small quantities of water enough to give each of us a glass of water. Some of us sold their share for two loaves of bread. We tried to issue a law to ban trade of water but the prefect of the dormitory did not agree.

Water was very cold in the dormitory, therefore months passed without daring having a bath, and they did not take us to the baths of the prison.

Going to the bath has a special routine: In the morning, jailers order all prisoners in the dormitories to be nude ready for the bath. After two to three hours they come to escort them to the baths in the form of a train while beating them. In the bath they enter two or three of them to a door-less bath. Water rushes out of the shower either very hot or cold. Once we start cleaning our bodies, orders came to get out immediately. To avoid beating, we ran quickly, some prisoners slipped down over each other to be beaten mercilessly. To return to the dormitories, prisoners take the position of the train while the jailers are beating their wet bodies.

I remember that in the prison of Sednayah we were taken to the bath twice, the second took a longer time, it continued for 3-4 minutes.

When we were moved to the dormitories, they told us that we can buy detergents from the “Detergents Canteen” with the money we have in the deposits. We bought large quantities, reserve for the future, for five times their real price outside the prison. We almost consumed all our savings on the quantities and because of the high prices, but it was a unique opportunity.

Our most beautiful moments in the prison were when we start the dawn prayers, followed by the morning hymns. I used to recite my hymns while walking to and fro, before arrival of the jailers.

We communicated learning the Quran, those who excel in reciting teach the others. If none of us learns the whole Surah[11], we collect the verses from each other to complete it… If any of us was sent to the hospital or to any security branch he would return with new verses to fill the gaps, we had. I remember that we collected all the verses of “Mohammad (surah)” excluding the last two ones which we couldn’t remember. When they reported me to Hospital 601, I met a “Hafiz” (reciter by heart) who was taught by “Sheikh Bakri al-Tarabishi” specialized in the seven readings of the Quran. With him, I reviewed “Al Imran surah” and the last two verses of “Mohammad surah” and returned to the prison.

One day one of us was totally depressed, and it happened that he found a text left by former prisoners before the revolution, a Quranic verse that says:

“And who so ever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty).  And He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine. And who so ever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish his purpose. Indeed, Allah has set a measure for all things.

When he read these verses, he changed into another man believing that this was a divine message sent for him.

In the prison, sleeping is by order. Once a jailer ordered us to sleep, we did. It seems that his colleague did not hear him when he gave the order, when he saw us sleeping, he threatened to punish us the following day. In the following day they came, beat us, ordered us to take the blankets out and they filled the dormitory with water for two months. Three of us died. Prisoners in another dormitory were ordered to stay in their underwear, many of them died.

One of the pleasant moments in the prison, if there is any, is to receive the order of sleeping. Spreading the blankets quietly, then closing eyes and sleeping soundly was the best time of the day because in it, we ran away from the reality. We always wished not to wake up.

Rumors of pardons were abundant. We created some of them from dream interpretations or result of false analysis of some events.

One of us returned from the hospital with a bottle of medicine, they allowed him to keep it. After finishing it, he used it to keep some tea in it. When they discovered that, they beat him hard but God saved him.

Diseases, including scabies, spread in the dormitories. They gave us no medicines. Only one jailer used to give us anti diarrhea tablets. We had a prisoner from the ill-famed “branch 215” who had met a dermatologist who told him that he couldn’t find information about some of the diseases spreading among the prisoners. This colleague had a new illness called “Limbs fall” result of gangrene. Cold in the prison of Sednayah was very strong to a degree if you walk bare foot, your feet will stick to the ground as if you put them in a freezer. Despite that, he walked barefoot because of the inflammation of his feet. He was recommended by an important official, so they gave him a new bandage every 2-3 weeks. When we changed his bandages, we noticed that his feet were decadent with a smell of rotten corpse. Once, he took off one of his toes and threw it away feeling no pain: “It died” he said.

 Before Geneva 2 conference was held in January 2014, treatment improved, and beating almost stopped. They operated the central heating. Director of the prison toured the dormitories wearing a false face of cordiality. He asked “How are you my sons? Sure, you feel warm here more than in your homes. Right?” One day they ordered us to take off our clothes and turn our faces to the wall. A doctor visited all the dormitories to estimate the spread of scabies. They gave us “Povidone” and antibiotic tablets enough to cure 70-80% of the ulcers and wounds in our bodies. It continued so until the talks failed. At that time, I had been set free, but I knew that the treatment returned worse than it was.

After killing the former director of the prison, Talat Mahfouz, treatment worsened. Before that, there was no tradition of killing a prisoner every day from a dormitory or at least, a wing. After that it became normal the jailer opens the door of the wing to ask:              “Who has a Fteeseh?”[12] Prefects of dormitories would answer: “One…two… etc.” In the afternoon, they come back to take the names of those who died: “What is the name of this son of a bitch?” then they order the dormitory prefect: “Wrap him in a blanket and throw him out.” So, we did. When the corpse is out, they kick it and drag it impolitely. They hate even the dead.

 The Visits:

For the first instant, a visit to the prisoner is a source of joy because he can see his relatives, know their news and some information, but he discovers later that it is a source of horror because of the deadly beating which accompanies him from and to the dormitory.

Visits take place on Sundays and Tuesdays, Sundays for military prisoners and Tuesdays for civilian ones, although this is not a rule. In the early morning they inform prisoners of the visits, then they collect them from the wings and lead them in the train form, bowing down and looking at the ground, with beating and kicking. Instructions to the jailers, state that the visit should be accomplished as quickly as possible. We all were bodily weak and feeble while the jailers were of high physical fitness. Walking was one of the main concerns for us because we don’t move in the dormitories. Therefore, we started practicing light exercises on Saturdays and Mondays preparing ourselves to a sudden visit. We always felt dizzy and fell down during walking because of our law pressure, and they always beat us to stand and continue walking.

They used to collect us in a large empty freezing hall to prepare us for the visit, squatting, faces to the wall. Prisoners from different dormitories used to avail the opportunity to talk with each other and to know the news of their friends; who died of them, and who is still alive. Talking was prohibited under severe beating, but we couldn’t lose the opportunity. In the room, there were heaps of shoes and slippers, left by the new prisoners because they will spend their imprisonment bare foot.  In the time of the visit they allow us to wear any pair of shoes or slippers in front of our visitors. If the prisoner is naked or half naked, they give him the blue suit, which is the uniform of the prison, and take it back after the visit.

In that same room they collect the sick prisoners who will be sent to the hospital. In one corner of that room there was always between 5-10 corpses of dead prisoners.

A jailer enters the room to cut the hair of the prisoners on number zero. When the prisoner’s turn comes, they lead every five of them in the train form too. Between the room and the visit mesh there is a corridor where they order you to raise your head from the position of bowing down and hands on your eyes.  “Get up now to see your family and to hear the instructions of the visit. It is forbidden to give any information about your state in the prison.” Once they ordered us to speak about life in the prison positively. It is forbidden to say anything about our legal status and our judgements which, originally, we know nothing about them.

It is forbidden to mention names! You can’t say how is my brother Mohammad? or my sister Nadia?  It is totally forbidden to mention any names. You can ask general questions: How are my brothers. How are my aunts and how are my uncles?

In the best cases, the jailer warns the prisoner from violating these instructions telling him: “Look, be careful, you will return to me.” Generally, jailers -say: “your mother is on the mesh, I can do such and such with her on the mesh.”

Between the prison and the normal world there is a blue curtain, when you pass it you will find yourself in the visit hall. The jailer, whom you can see now and probably identify his voice, puts his hand on your shoulder and gently guides you. He stands to your right, while another one stands with your visitors. Between you and your visitors stands another jailer in the corridor between the two meshes. You are responsible of your words and the words of your visitors. If they make a mistake you will be punished later. Duration of the visit is two minutes and in case there is a support from outside, it may extend to five minutes, and if the support is from an important official, they may open the window and allow you to kiss your visitors. When the time is over, the jailer tells you: “Say good bye to your family and tell them if you need anything.” You ask them to bring you clothes and towels in the following visit.

We were always keen to ask for white clothes so we can see lice in the dark.

The same jailer guides you out, and while your family are seeing you off silently, he whispers in your ear: “Straight up … Be proud of yourself.” Once you pass the blue curtain, he would kick you for no reason to push you meters ahead. After that, you must kneel down, take off what you were having in your feet and wait for the bag your visitors have brought you because they will throw it on your head. The jailer will order you: “Up,” and you must get up and understand it as, “Kneel down” because you have already returned to the normal life of the prison. While you are still kneeling down, they take your thumb and put it on the receipt of deposits. The higher amount of money your family can leave to you is five thousand Syrian Lira. Once it is in the record of the deposits it is difficult to tamper it, but it remains frozen without interest as long as the prison directorate prohibits you from buying food, medicines or detergents.

This is true if your conduct during the visit is satisfactory, but if you make any mistake, they will beat you, and while guiding you to the dormitory, they would steal the deposits, another form of punishment. If the violation is great, they may deprive you of future visits or they will beat you to death.

At the end of the visit, they give the prisoner the clothes his family had brought him, and he has to carry them to the door of the dormitory where they check them again to steal the new items and leave the used ones for him.

The visit was a nightmare, and Jailers do everything they can to reveal their sectarian and regionalist back grounds to harm the prisoners. The first question they ask is: “Where are you from?” If you tell them you are from Damascus, for example, they would explode in anger because you participated in the protests without being in need of money. In their opinion, all the Damascenes are rich. Then they ask you about your neighborhood, the richest the neighborhood, the more you will be beaten. Despite that, one of our colleagues was exaggerating in his financial position. If he is asked about the price of his house, he would duplicate it several times, or about his properties he would increase their numbers, just to raise their anger which was always present.

Because of my accent, I was beaten several times. They ordered me to pronounce the word orange. I was supposed to stop replacing the pronunciation of certain letters in the way they do. When I pronounce them as they want, they stop beating me.
When a family flies of joy for having a permission for a visit, the prisoner will be frustrated. We even congratulated each other when our names were skipped out in the list of the visits. Once, a mother came to visit her son, they told her he is in a “mission.” What mission, she was standing in front of an ambulance carrying his body.

 To the Cell Once More:

“Mission” in the prison terminology means departing the prison temporarily to the court, to the hospital, or to one of the security branches to be investigated again and to return, because in these cases, the prisoner remains in the registers of the prison, even if he was absented for two years.

When we were in the dormitories, a new file was opened in the air force security branch with my name in it, so I was called for investigation, where I spent five months during which the regime used chemical weapons on the Eastern Ghouta in August 2013. At the end of September that year, my “mission” finished and they returned me to the prison of Sednayah. It was the tradition in such cases to return the prisoner to the same group in the dormitory, but the responsible staff sergeant told me; “What, you, poor man? What is going on in Damascus?” I told him; “I don’t know and nothing happened.” He said: “you are a liar.” He looked at the soldiers and told them: “Take him down to the cells and let him forget what happened in Damascus.”

In the cell, I found three persons like me, returning from different missions. The decision was to spend a disciplinary period in the cells to forget the news they had heard in order not to spread them in the dormitories. In the cell I spent about one month and a half in very bad conditions.  The ceiling was dripping, the cell was very cold and we have no blankets. They punished us for the sounds of breathing and snoring. Prefect of the cell should identify the perpetrator of the crime of snoring or he, himself, will be punished or all the prisoners in the cell.

 At the end of the disciplinary period the jailers called me to take me back to the dormitory.  They asked me what we were talking about in the cell? I said that speaking is prohibited. They were smoking, they put off their cigarettes on my body while I was kneeling down. One of them asked me: “Haven’t you forgotten what happened in Damascus?” I said that I have already forgotten, I even didn’t know anything. They beat me lightly and took me to the dormitory.

One of the prisoners in the cell was brought from the white building. They put him in the cell to forget the news which he had heard. He was the first who assured me the cases of executing prisoners in the white building. Before that, we believed that death cases were always result of beating, torture and hunger.

Prefect of the cell was a rude man from Homs countryside. He asked me what was my charge, I told him, “I was chairman of a coordination,” he said the usual punishment for this crime is execution. I isolated myself in the toilet, alone, hardly can eat. I imagined how they will lead me to the execution.  I realized that I shall not be able to see my family again. I concentrated my thoughts about the afterlife and started asking God’s pardon for what I had done in the past. I imagined the last moments of my life, will it be hanging or shooting?  I imagined that I will not die whatever the tool they will use to kill me, and that I will get out of my coffin and run away to freedom. Strange thoughts invaded my mind. One day, prefect of the cell asked me why I don’t eat. I told him it is not important if they will execute me. He asked me the source of these news, I told him that he told me this. He half laughed, denied what he had said and started pacifying me until I started eating again.

Later on, I knew that he was right, all coordination’s heads were executed even if they were peaceful, because they were responsible of what the authorities called “riots.”

The Executions:

Two times a week they take prisoners to “extradition,” i.e. execution. In the evenings, they call some names for unknown reasons. At first, we thought they will transfer them to better places believing that there is no place worse than Sednayah, may be to the prison of Adra.  We envied those who were called, and pitied ourselves. We told those who were privileged to be extradited to phone our families from Adra prison, which has telephones, to reassure them on us, but long periods passed, many of them went away and our families, who visited us, did not mention that anybody had called them.

They used to transport prisoners to be executed by cars at twelve o’clock in the night, one car goes, and another comes after ten minutes to carry another group. This was repeated more than twenty times in the night. It took us time to understand that it is the same car, or may be only two cars, that go and return between the white and the red building, a distance of 200 m, where executions take place. They used to gather them in one of the dormitories close to ours in the first floor, where they may spend one night. They always were between fifty and three hundred, depending on the execution lists. They used to beat them brutally, something we couldn’t understand, why beat a man going to be executed?

 The Last Night:  

One day, our group was organizing the “Food Program” I had mentioned before. That day I and a colleague of mine, prepared a plate of bread, orange and jam. It was very delicious. That night we slept soundly, glad to smell freedom in that meal.

The following morning, I slept a little after the prayer, and had a dream that I had bathed and cleaned my body with warm water and removed all the blackness from it forever.  I narrated the dream to my colleagues with a sense of optimism. After two hours’ jailers brought us the bread and called my name, my partner of the orange meal, and a third one from my “Case,” and took us to a dormitory where there were other prisoners. In that day there were no visits, so we thought they will take us to the execution. Instead of that, they took us to a room where there were several staff sergeants. We were kneeling down and blinded as usual.  One of them ordered us to stand straight and to look at them normally because his “excellency the president” pardoned us. They handled us our deposits, and one of them escorted us to the gate of the prison advising us to avoid making problems and to enjoy our life.  He also told us that each one of us has to pay 1,200 Syrian Lira, due to the prison. That was a lie of course, because there was no receipt. I hastened to pay it from the deposits I had for the three of us, considering it a gift.  The jailer took the money and said “I am sure that you are terrorists and you will return to terrorism. His excellency, the president, made a mistake by pardoning you, anyhow, it is alright.”

[1] In 1982, an armed movement took place in Syria and thousands of people were arrested. The prison in Palmyra received hundreds of prisoners who were later killed inside the prison by the “Defense Companies” a military unit commanded by Rifaat al-Assad, brother of the former president of Syria, Hafez al-Assad. (the translator).
[2] Lakhdar in Arabic means green, The PVC tube is green and was called so after a UN Algerian envoy to Syria who formerly was foreign minister of Algeria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
[3] Moslems pray five times a day directing faces towards the Holy Kaaba in Mecca: The dawn prayer before sun rise, noon prayer at about midday, al-Asr prayer two hours before sun set, the Maghreb prayer at sunset and al-Isha prayer after the fall of total darkness.
[4] These are titles of recommended surahs of the Holy Quran. Surah stands for a chapter.
[5] Dhama is a public game popular in the countryside of Syrian cities similar to chess.
[6] In Islamic tradition, Azrael is identified with the Quranic Malak al-Mawt “angel of death“.
[7] Shakriyeh is a kind of Syrian food made of large pieces of meat cooked in Yoghourt.
[8] Sheikh al-Mehshi is also a Syrian food made of zucchini stuffed with meat and pine nuts and cooked in yoghourt
[9] Baklava, kunafeh, harissa, and nammoura are popular kinds of Syrian sweets.
[10] Halawa is a kind of sweet made from sesame and sugar, usually eaten with breakfast
[11] Surah is a chapter of the Holy Quran
[12]  A term used to humiliate dead bodies


Prelude the book

Part 1   Part 2    Part 3  Part 4  Part 5 Part 6   Part 7  Part 8   Part 9 

Part 10