Human voice: Yasmina Banshi
They are forcibly absent and forgotten amongst the echoes of the cries of pain that fill the corridors of prisons. Their voices leaking behind prison bars, telling the besiegers that they are still resisting.
During the Syrian revolution, Syrian women and peaceful activists were arrested. Women were and still are subject to various forms of physical and psychological torture through beatings and electrocution and walking over the dead bodies of detainees and even rape. The methods of torture were variable, and for the regime’s soldiers, there was no difference between a young girl, a young woman or even an elderly one.
Hind (34 year-old) recounts the incident of her arrest at one of the regime’s checkpoints in October 2012, when she was on her way to check on her house that was bombed by the Syrian air force in the southern region of Damascus.
When I was arrested at the checkpoint, the security forces gathered around me as wolves gather around their prey. One of them took me to an abandoned house to inspect me and look for anything that would condemn me. The moments of inspection were filled with threatening glances. The officer handcuffed my hands and took me to another checkpoint where an officer was present. Hind continues recounting that on their way back, the scene was horrific. The bodies of young men were scattered on the roadsides. Some were charred, others swollen, and the traces of bullets appeared on their bodies as if they had been field executions. I was whispering trembling words to myself, but soon the voice of that soldier interrupted me telling me to watch my steps.
The distance was two hundred steps and thirty-eight corpses. We arrived at another checkpoint. The officer started hitting me hard on the face. “What is your name?” “Hind…” he interrupted me and asked on his wireless device if I was wanted by a security branch or not, and what my crime was. I rose up against the officer and he told me to shut up and write the names of the members of my entire family. The officer said: “your crime is that you entered an area crowded with terrorists.”
They put me alone in a prefabricated room at the checkpoint. I waited for an hour and a half. Then an officer came and told me to either confess or they would kill me there and no one would know. I was shocked and I could hear the other officers outside saying: “this girl saw everything, we can’t keep her alive.”
I did not confess to anything, and I was not afraid to die despite the horrors that I saw. In the meantime, another officer came and asked me to kneel with my forehead touching the ground. He pushed my head to the ground and trampled on it with all his strength, while insulting me with the ugliest phrases and threatening to rape me. When it started getting dark, he asked the officers to escort me to a security branch in Damascus.
Five officers escorted me on foot. I no longer counted my steps that were either interrupted by the soldiers’ voices or the sound of the bombs and bullets. Counting them was useless. We reached an unknown location with an armored military vehicle. They put me inside it with my hands tied. Their laughter and looks seemed to suggest what I had feared, the great calamity. One of them held my body forcefully and closed my mouth, and the rest of the officers took turns raping me with brutality and barbarism until I fainted. Yet their words kept shocking me “aren’t you done? It is my turn.”
I woke up in the morning to the sounds of the officers telling me to get ready to go to the branch. When I reached the military security branch in a pitiful state, my clothes were torn and the bruises covering my body told the story of what had happened to me that night. The detainees in the dormitory tried to help me and calm me down, but whenever I woke up, that nightmare would appear in front of me, and I would go back to my coma.
After three days, I was summoned to the investigation and I complained to the head of the investigation about what had happened to me. I gave him the names of the officers who raped me, so he asked me to sign a paper vowing not to mention their names, and not to tell any media or even my family in exchange for my release. He threatened to arrest my entire family if I uttered a word, and promised me to punish the officers who raped me.
I left the branch heading to the Ghouta region, fearing that my family would know what had happened to me. I was afraid they would be arrested if I were with them. My fear was the biggest shame those criminals inflicted on me.
I stayed in the Ghouta region at a friend’s house for two months, during which I received treatment at the field hospital in the city of Irbeen. I was communicating with my family and reassuring them that I was safe and that I was in hiding, until the conditions in Ghouta deteriorated and the bombing intensified. My father asked to see me urgently; I then decided to return to the city of Damascus.
On the 5th of December 2012, I packed my things and headed to Damascus.
They searched through my cell phone as they do with all other people passing at the gate. After minutes of inspection, the soldier said: “arrest her.” What a catastrophe! I was wanted by branch 227. One of them handcuffed me, put a band on my eyes, and took me in a military car to the branch once again.
During the investigation inside the branch, the investigator asked me to confess to financing terrorism, and that I had received large sums of money from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and asked me to tell on people I have never heard of before.
He threatened that I would die inside the branch when I did not own up to any of the accusations. Here, the journey of torment began. It was cold and he asked me to take off my coat then he put me in a large barrel full of water. Whenever he brought me out, he would whip me. Then he put me in front of a wall fan to freeze. This was not the only torture method, as electricity was shocking my body during the investigation. Eventually, I could no longer tolerate the torture and pain, so I confessed to what they wanted to hear so that my body would rest.
After sixty days, I was transferred to branch 291 in Kafarsoosa area, then to branch 215, where I could see the corpses of young men scattered in the corridors. Death in the basements of security branches was of no value, and psychological torture was more painful than physical torture.
I kept moving between the two branches for forty-five days, until I was transferred to Adra prison to spend the remaining days there.
I was brought before the terrorism court judge who arrested me in favor of the criminal court without allowing me to defend myself, and without minding that all my confessions were made under torture.
I got out of prison at the end of 2014 as a part of a reconciliation between the regime and the elders of the area where I used to live. On that day, an officer approached me and whispered in my ear: “are you Hind?” “Yes, sir.” “I have a surprise for you.”
He took me to a nearby bus that was filled with women who were leaving prison with us as part of that deal. I saw my sister among the detainees. She had stopped visiting me in prison; she was skinny, and wearing torn clothes. She had been arrested because of her frequent visits to me.
After our release from prison, three days were enough to flee a country ruled by criminals. I travelled to Turkey with my family fearing arrest once again.
The Syrian network for human rights has documented that the government forces arrested at least 11,850 women from March 2011 until the beginning of 2017. About 6580 of them are still under arrest or forced disappearance in the detention centers of the Syrian regime forces.
The detainees’ file is considered a pressure card used by the Syrian regime to pressure the international community after deviating this issue from its humanitarian aspect. Despite all the violations that occurred and still occur in prisons, the United Nations and the international human rights organizations were not able to condemn the regime for its crimes, or even reveal the fate of some detainees or persons who forcibly disappeared.
The largest chain for the detainees remains that psychological pain and that dark memory that may accompany them throughout their lives. Some of them have overcome their conditions, while others still live in darkness behind bars.
This human rights story was produced with the support of JHR organization and Donner Canadian Foundation.