Torture under the Assad regime

Syrian detainee No. 72

The Syrian government has acknowledged that hundreds of detainees were killed in state custody. Anchal Vohra met one of the prisoners who, along with many others, was tortured in Bashar Assad's jails. This is his story

At night, he retreated to his memories: whenever night began, whenever the guard struck the iron door with a baton, whenever the 30 others he was sharing the cell with made their beds.

They were given a blanket each. There was a peephole for commands, the only source of light and indicator of time.

He reminisced about barbecue evenings with friends and replayed the moment Yassin, his first child, was born. Often, he went for a stroll on the streets of Baba Amr, his neighbourhood and walked in his fields to sample an apricot. In fits of delirium he hoped that maybe his reality was just a bad dream and when he woke up, he would be home.

His memories were hazy. The blanket was too short and didn't cover his feet.

He felt the ache returning. The injuries were fresh from the torture inflicted a few hours before, while other wounds were still festering. His worst fears distracted him. Were they abusing his wife and mother as they had threatened, even after he had signed the unread confession? Was his family lying dead somewhere under the debris of a bombed-out house? He sobbed into his forearm. Noise, even a whisper, would be punished.

Mizyed Khalid Tahad, detainee number 72, endured over 365 such nights.

Mizyed with two of his children in their shelter in a Lebanese refugee camp, Bekaa Valley (photo: DW/A. Vohra)
Syriaʹs history of torture: According to Amnesty International, Bashar Assad's father, Hafez, used 35 different torture techniques. It's alleged that Assad senior learned some of these from a Nazi war criminal, Alois Brunner, who escaped trial for sending hundreds of thousands of Jews to the concentration camps in World War II by hiding out in Syria

A day in the life of prisoner No. 72

The day began with the prison staff yelling insults. It was a daily drill. The moment a soldier walked in, they were instructed to jump up and face the wall, pull up their T-shirts over their heads and look to the ground. All he could see was a hint of shadows overlapping.

"Speak, you bastards! Who is the president of Syria, who is your god?" the guards would yell. "Bashar Assad, Sir, long live our president," the prisoners would chant. The soft thud of the loaves of bread thrown on the ground was their cue to turn around and squat. It was one loaf per three prisoners and a few spoonfuls of yogurt each.

There was a routine to life in Assad's most infamous torture chambers. Meals were interspersed with thrashings, euphemistically termed interrogations. Hanging by the wrists for hours, contorting bodies to fit in a tire, countless lashes with a pipe: these were the most commonly used techniques.

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