Sun 30 June 2019:
Ex-prisoner speaks for first time about cruel torture methods she faced during nine-month long incarceration
A former inmate of Syrian prisons run by the Bashar al-Assad regime recounted the torture and abuse she faced during her incarceration as her scars keep horrific memories alive. In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Nur Hammad — a pseudonym to protect her identity — spoke for the first time about the cruelty she was forced to endure during her nine-month imprisonment at several detention centers. The 30-year old was arrested by the Assad regime soldiers in May 2018.
Arrested at checkpoint
Before her arrest by regime henchmen, Hammad worked as a pharmacist in the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus — which was under intense seige by forces loyal to Assad. She left the region to move to Idlib, though she was later forced to seek return after her mother called her back as her younger sibling died.
“I prepared my stuff and left off to go to my mother [to Eastern Ghouta]. After passing the Free Syrian Army [FSA] checkpoints I reached the Assad regime checkpoints where they were conducting identity checks,” she said. She was called out of the car, only to find out her name was on the wanted list of the Syrian regime. Hammad said she was brought to the Aleppo political security center after being searched and handcuffed. She was searched by men, who touched her and disrespected her religious and traditional values.
“Later, a woman who was around 50 years old came and took me in a separate room where she removed all my clothes and searched me as well,” she said. From there, Hammad was brought to the Aleppo military intelligence center, with her hands bound behind her back. “During the entire journey they [regime soldiers] cursed and insulted me, this was the first time I was slapped for sitting upright,” she said.
At the intelligence center, she was put into a one-square-meter cell where she spent two days before her first interrogation began. “I couldn’t even lie down as every two hours, the soldiers would come in, pour water on me and insult me before leaving, I could also hear little children crying, and sounds of men suffering,” she said. On her second day in the cell, regime soldiers took her out for her first interrogation. “They tied my eyes and tied my hands behind my back and when I asked why I was treated like this they tightened the plastic handcuffs more and started to interrogate me,” she said. Despite repeatedly telling them that she was innocent, this treatment continued.
Hammad said she was accused of supporting the FSA with medical supplies and of supporting and standing with those rising up against the state. “I told them that the pharmacy was open for every patient and person in need, I didn’t know if anyone was from the opposition or the Assad regime,” she said. She said one particularly hard slap during the cruel interrogation caused her to faint. “They poured water on my face with a bucket and woke me up, during that time they also took off my hijab,” she said.
Threatened with rape
When she was conscious again her hands and feet were tied as well. “I was very scared.” “The person who was interrogating me asked the others for a plastic tube, I remember him hitting me 23 times, I fainted, thinking I was going to die of pain. When I would recover the questions would continue,” she said. Four soldiers in the room would take turns torturing her, ignoring her desperate pleas for them to stop. She said that the soldiers also looked through her pictures on the phone, insulting and threatening her with rape.
“They told me to decide: ‘either you admit [to the accusations] or you will die’,” she said. She was then kicked several times when she fell down with no strength to move anymore. “The interrogator instructed them [the other soldiers] to hold me from my hair and drag and throw me into the cell like a ‘garbage bag’,” she said, describing how her hair was painfully pulled out in the soldiers’ grasp.
“As long as I was in the cell, they would pour water from a bucket [on me] every two hours, there was blood on the floor, but I didn’t know where the blood came from and where I was bleeding,” she said. Inside her cell, Hammad said she lost any sense of time passing over 32 days under unbearable and unhygienic conditions. Unable even to shower during this time, sleep was fleeting for Hammad during her imprisonment due to the cries of suffering coming from other inmates.
Cruel, Inhuman, Degrading Treatment
She was taken into interrogation again, and torture began anew. “They tied my hands and stretched my feet, which were off the ground, like I was tightened on a crucifix, they punched my back, my legs, everywhere with tubes,” she said. “Blood was running out of my mouth and nose, I felt that some of my body parts were fractured, three of my ribs were cracked, there are still the signs of their torture on my body,” she added. This torture would continue every two days for 2-3 hours.At the end of 32 days, she was taken to the commanding officer who tried to force her to confess.
“There was a barrel filled with water, I understood what they were up to. After hitting various parts of my body, they grabbed my hair and plunged my head into the barrel, I felt like I was drowning,” she said. Hammad said she was praying to God, calling out to take her life, as she could no longer bear the pain. “Every time I reached the point of drowning they pulled out my head and forced me to confess, the interrogator called the others to give me electricity, my entire body was wet, they would give me electric shocks,” she said.
Hammad was unsure how long this continued. “I felt like fainting, I couldn’t bear this pain anymore, I had no longer any strength to speak,” she said. Unable to stand the intensified torture, she accepted all charges against her. “They tortured me so much they [had to] take me to the hospital, have me treated and take me back to the prison,” she said.
Freedom through bribing
During her time in prison, Hammad’s family sold their properties to find out where she was held. They were forced to bribe one of the officers who partook in Hammad’s torture in order to arrange for her release.
She had to accept the charges of “knowing members of opponents” to get released.After she was brought to court she was transferred to the Adra prison — a facility known for its heavy torture and the rape of inmates. Hammad said that she was not immediately released as she had many signs of torture on her body which would be evidence and was forced to sign a document without even reading it. “In Adra, there were high-ranking soldiers. They would enter the cells and take out the beautiful girls,” she said, adding that rape was common there.
Life after torture
After seven months of incarceration in Adra Prison, Hammad was released and made her way straight to her family and friends who were living in Damascus. “I was only able to stay for three days and see my mother in secret, I felt like I was harming my family,” she said stating that she could no longer bear to stay in an Assad regime-held area. “I knew that the northern parts of Syria were safe, a friend of mine bribed one of the Assad regime soldiers, he got me from Damascus to the North [of Syria] without getting stuck at any checkpoint,” she said.
After her release, Hammad said her fiance turned his back on her.”I called my fiance, it was a foreign number, so he picked up. When I told him it was me, he said not to call him anymore and hung up,” she said, remembering this as one of the most painful moments after her release. “Now I live here [Afrin], with my friends, I can’t talk to my family, I can’t practice my profession,” she said. “I’m thankful that my family reached out somehow and I could escape from torture and prison with bribery, but there are thousands of women in prisons without anyone, without any money,” she said.
Call for support
Hammad called for help for those women who continue to languish in prisons and those who were released as she said they are “forgotten”. “I want people who hear my voice to help those women who remain in prisons. They need a helping hand, just as the ones who survive prison,” she said. Speaking about her life after prison, Hammad said she wanted to continue life as strong as possible.
“My dream is to go to a different country as soon as possible, to forget what I was put through and complete my education to stand on my own feet again,” she said. Syria has been locked in a devastating conflict since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected severity. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to UN figures, while women and children continue to bear the brunt of the conflict.
According to the Conscience Movement, more than 13,500 women have been jailed since the Syrian conflict began, while more than 7,000 women remain in detention, where they are subjected to torture, rape and sexual violence. The movement is an alliance of individuals, rights groups and organizations aiming to secure urgent action for the release of women and children in the prisons of the Syrian regime.
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