In addition to featuring technology in MENA pieces this month, every Sunday, PITAPOLICY tries to include updates regarding the Syrian developments. Political disappearances used to be a common tactic employed by the earlier Assad regime. Before Bashar Assad began the crackdown netizens have been reporting over Twitter–because no international news organizations are permitted to report within Syria–Hafez Assad used to rule Syria with an iron fist. After Hafez’s death, many believed the mild-mannered son, Bashar, would deal with political dissent differently. However, now it appears that is “like father, like son” based on an Amnesty International Report. First we will include in-depth responses by a former political prisoner of the Hafez era: Bara Sarraj. Then we will include recent interviews by an earlier PITAPOLICY contributor, Dr. Younes Abouayoub.
An earlier interview with Bara Sarraj informed a policy brief published by the Middle East Institute from 2011.
Interview with a Former Political Prisoner of the Syrian Regime
By: Mehrunisa Qayyum
MQ: 1) Why did you spend time in Tadmor Prison, which is reserved for political prisoners?
BaS: If you look at the statistics of Tadmor prison inmates and have some of their stories, you will form an idea why they were targeted including me. I met 800 of the 20 thousand who entered Tadmor. 40% were under the age of 20, 40% around the age of 26, and the rest were diverse. Very few were above 70. Around 400 were underage (between 13-17). Most people were brought in for trivial reasons. I met a friend who was put in Tadmor for reading a banned newspaper, though he was illiterate. A 70-year old from a village near Idlib spent 8 years as a hostage for his son. Being a mosque regular was a valid reason for intelligence to coerce confessions that you were an opposition “armed group” member. I have to speculate why Asad Intel arrested me. I never knew and never saw the report the interrogator forced me to stamp my thumb on twice (in Hama and Damascus) while blindfolded. I never knew my sentence but after I was released of the 12-year long torturous detention. Still, I do not comprehend why they torture us in Tadmor for years. Couldn’t they just imprison us for whatever reason they see fit. But, why torture?!
MQ: 2) Can you describe the general treatment of prisoners…and what you experienced?
BaS: Torture in Tadmor prison starts in the very first moment the prisoner is thrown from the car to the ground where the kicks and slaps pour. Then comes the reception, which is the initiation of the human into a prisoner with no rights whatsoever. The reception is the torture session by what is called the tire. The flesh of the feet will open and a number of prisoners will die there.
The prison days after that are years of just one similar day: torture, morning, noon, evening and night. Torture is in the yards, in the so-called bath, and during the head and beard shaving sessions. Any direct contact with the guards is a potential beating that might end up in death. The guards used anything they might be able to carry for beating: rubber coated rods, whips, building bricks, door metallic latches and obviously their hands and military boots.
MQ: 3) How many inmates made it out alive from your prison?
BaS: Tadmor military prison is a detention camp that started its reputation by a massacre on the 27th of June, 1980 when Asad forces spray bulleted around one thousand political prisoners. Since then around twenty thousand Syrians were dragged to it over twelve years till the end of 1992 when the newcomers almost stopped. My least estimate is that around eleven thousands were executed by hanging in the sixth yard of Tadmor prison. Most of these were executed in the period of July 1980 to late 1984. Hundreds were killed by torture in the yards, and hundred others died out of disease, mainly TB and malnutrition. Five to seven thousand were released starting in 1992
MQ: 4) Since you have a following of approaching 2600 on Twitter: How many and what kind of updates do you receive on Twitter? What are they describing?
BaS:I cannot keep track of the updates and it is hard to keep up with the timeline. I follow the news on twitter and still is tweeting my prison glimpses.
MQ: 5) What do you want to convey to those that still believe that terrorists, not the Assad regime, are carrying out the killings of civilians throughout Syria?
BaS: The Syrian revolution provided to the world thousands of YouTube videos documenting who is shooting at people. Snipers, Shabiha (the paramilitary gangs), intelligence forces and the army are the ones who are killing peaceful demonstrators for a year. The revolution had not turned militarized but after months of slaughter that forced the conscientious soldiers to defect and refuse orders of killing their brothers and sisters.
MQ: 6) If Assad is not ordering the killings, who would it be?
BaS: It is Asad, his inner circle and the heads of intelligence branches who rule Syria. There is no functioning government in Syria; it is just a facade. A common knowledge to every Syrian is that a low-rank intelligence officer has more power than the prime minister himself. It is Asad, and nobody else who orders the killings. The good president and bad circle is just a myth!
Note: Barra Saraj tweets from @Tadmor_Harvard.
Note: Younes Abouayoub is a Research Scholar at the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, Columbia University, NYC. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com