On a recent trip to Istanbul in Turkey, I was captivated by a chance meeting with a young Syrian man, who spent 17 days in a Syrian jail. While our language barrier was difficult, the emotions upon hearing his story held no boundaries.
Born in Damascus, the capital of the Syrian Arab republic, Mohamed was the third eldest child out of a family of 10 siblings and the second eldest son.
In 2012, a year after the 2011 uprising in Syria which started the Syrian civil war, Mohamed was arrested by government forces for partaking in protest action against the ruling party in Syria. 17 days later he was released from jail and his life would never be the same again.
Following his release, Mohamed moved with his family to Lebanon and then Turkey when rumours began circulating that Syrian government forces planned to kidnap one of the members of his family, in Syria, and hold them for ransom.
Barely 22 years old, Mohamed says the experience inside prison changed him.
“I was having issues with my family so I wanted to leave, then I joined a protest and got arrested,” says Mohamed whilst recalling the exact day he was arrested.
It was May 28, 2012, barely summer in Syria and Mohamed decided to join in on protest action, in (Al) Maidan the centre of Damascus, against the Syrian government. He wore a mask and shot videos of what was happening around him.
A few moments into the protest, people loyal to the government came and started arresting those involved in the demonstration.
“I felt so afraid, the beat me to the ground and threw me in the back of a truck, we drove around for an hour whilst they questioned me and I told them I was paid 10 dollars to take video footage of this protest,” Mohamed continued.
“They then asked me to describe the guy who hired me to take the footage, now I was making up a man in my head who I knew they would eventually try and search for.”
Mohamed was frightened; he knew he could face months in prison without a conviction and then an even longer time if he were to be convicted.
Luckily for Mohamed, he was sent to prison at the early stage of the Syrian uprisings when the world had no idea what the Syrian government was capable of.
The United Nations had sent watch dogs to Syria to see if human rights violations were being carried out against Syrians and a watch dog was stationed at the prison in which he was being held.
After two weeks Mohamed was moved to a more central prison to be seen by a Judge. After a couple of days at the prison he was ordered to appear before a judge. He was seen by a female judge who he says wore Hijab and she just looked at him and sent him home.
Mohamed says he thanks God every day that he was sent to a prison in which watch dogs were present.
“I met a man from Iraq who had been in prison for five years without any charges being brought against him, I was so fearful that I might be sent to prison for a long period of time and my family had no idea where I was,” Mohamed explained.
Amnesty International wrote in a report that “torture” and “extrajudicial execution” are “rampant” in detention centres. The Syria Network for Human Rights also estimates that 65,000 people, mostly civilians, were forcibly “disappeared” by the government between March 2011 and August 2015, and remain missing. The Syrian government rejects allegations of abuses.
(Mohamed’s name was changed for anonymity purposes)
VOC (Umarah Hartley)