The beatings would begin as soon as they were arrested, and they continued at a “welcome party” at the detention center.
That’s the term dozens of Syrian detainees used to describe severe beatings at the hands of government forces upon arriving at one of Syria’s prisons.
A group of guards usually carried out the beatings, often with tools such as silicone bars and hoses, to punish prisoners for their perceived opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, according to a new report from Amnesty International.
The punishment was a sign of things to come.
The experiences of detainees are detailed in the new report, which estimates that 17,723 people have died in custody in Syria since the crisis began in March 2011 — an average rate of more than 300 deaths each month.
While Amnesty and other human rights organizations have a general sense of the torture occurring at Syria’s state-run prisons, details of conditions inside them are murky, much like a “black hole,” as the report says.
“The catalogue of horror stories featured in this report depicts in gruesome detail the dreadful abuse detainees routinely suffer from the moment of their arrest, through their interrogation and detention behind the closed doors of Syria’s notorious intelligence facilities. This journey is often lethal, with detainees being at risk of death in custody at every stage,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
“For decades, Syrian government forces have used torture as a means to crush their opponents. Today, it is being carried out as part of a systematic and widespread attack directed against anyone suspected of opposing the government in the civilian population and amounts to crimes against humanity. Those responsible for these heinous crimes must be brought to justice.”
The report focuses on the experiences of 65 survivors, 54 men and 11 women, interviewed by Amnesty from December 2015 and May 2016. Seven were members of the Syrian military or assisted the military at time of arrest.
The rest were civilians who had not engaged in any military activities as far as Amnesty International is aware, with occupations spanning Syrian society: accountants, lawyers, teachers and academics, students, engineers, electricians, architects, business owners, gym managers, sales assistants, writers and journalists, actors, artists, NGO staff, human rights defenders, farmers and day laborers.
Most were arrested by one of four branches of the Syrian security forces — Air Force Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Political Security and General Intelligence — and brought to the branch’s detention center. After a trial before an anti-terrorism court or military field court, proceedings described as “flagrantly unfair” by Amnesty, prisoners are transferred to Saydnaya Military Prison.
They described relentless torture and other mistreatment during interrogation to extract “confessions” or other information, or simply as punishment.
Common methods included dulab, the act of forcibly contorting the victim’s body into a rubber tyre, and falaqa, or flogging on the soles of the feet, along with electric shocks, rape and sexual violence.
Some prisoners had their fingernails or toenails pulled out, while some were scalded with hot water or burned with cigarettes.
The report includes a video reconstruction of Saydnaya, based on survivors’ memories of the brutal conditions.
“In Saydnaya, the architecture of the prison emerges not only as a location of torture, but itself as an instrument of perpetration,” the group said in the newly-released video.