Arrest and torture: Assad’s strategy for holding on to power

In Syria, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned the country’s legal system into a tool with which it accomplishes its goals and extends its hold on power. By exploiting or ignoring the law, the regime has suppressed everyone who has stood against it since 2011, arresting individuals throughout the country without clear charges . According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, there are more than 90,967 individuals who were detained or forcibly disappeared between March 2011 and May 2016. In that same period, more than 12,596 detainees died as a result of torture.

Arrestees spend months and sometimes years in prison awaiting a court date that in some cases never comes.

Khalid Taema, from the village of Majala in northern Homs province, was arrested in December 2011 while he was on his way to university. He was moved between five different security branches while he was detained. He described to the Syrian Voice some of his experience with the security forces’ use of torture.

“The Syrian regime has its own traditional methods of torture which it uses the most. For example there is one method called the ‘ghost’ where the wrists are tied up and raised up for hours, until they begin to wear down. ‘The wheel’ is another, where a prisoner’s limbs are tied up and he is kicked all over his body. They also punch, kick, use whips and steel cylinders to beat the prisoner all over his body. A horrific number of people were killed in front of me in these ways.”

Guards in Syrian prisons would jam more than 60 people into a single cell not larger than 20 square meters, said Khalid, adding that this overcrowding had a negative impact on detainees, contributing to the quick spread of diseases.

Khalid’s relatives searched for him after his arrest, paying money to soldiers in the Syrian army and other regime officials, eventually securing his release and return to them. Khalid’s story illustrates the regime’s policy of taking payments for the release of detainees or even information about where they are being held or the state of their health. However, this is an unofficial policy carried out through middleman and individuals close to the regime.

The story of Saddam Abu Khalouf, from northern Hama, is another illustrative case. He was arrested in the middle of 2013 and taken to a political security office in Hama city. After 35 days there he was moved to a school converted by the regime into a makeshift prison. There, he found his brother who had been arrested earlier and put in the same school.

“Because of the terrible forms of torture that I was subjected to, including electric shocks, a contraption that broke limbs, and burning my skin with cigarette butts, I admitted to all the charges they presented me with, including carrying a weapon. Given the beating and torture, I had no other option.” said Saddam.

Saddam’s brother was not so lucky.

“My brothers health deteriorated severely because of the ongoing torture. We asked for treatment for him more than once without a getting a response. One day, he left the cell, alive, only to return hours later a lifeless corpse. We learned afterwards that they had injected him with poison to be rid of him rather than giving him any medical attention.”

Abu Farouq, also from the northern Hama  countryside, described his ordeal as the father of a son who was forcibly disappeared. His son was arrested at his place of work and driven to an unknown location without any charge.

“I asked people with influence to help me and they said they would only if I gave them a large sum of money. I didn’t hesitate to pay, without getting any sort of documentation to prove that I had paid. I just wanted any information about my son’s whereabouts. But I was deceived, and to this day I haven’t been able to get any information about where my son is and why he was arrested.”

Unfortunately, as the numbers show, these types of cases are all too common in Syria. Civilians are taken without no legal basis or justification, and are not granted their right to know the reason for their detention or the relevant laws.  Regime forces regularly carry out random arrests in clear violation of international human rights law.



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