A Story from the Dungeons of the Syrian Regime in Daraa
Without a clear charge, he was suddenly held in a dungeon, where his biggest dreams turned into a desire for a loaf of bread or a hot bath. In the prison of the Military Security Branch in Daraa governorate, Mohammad Abu Hussain spent months with these suspended wishes.
Muhammad was not alone in this, for the most famous detention center in Southern Syria keeps dozens of people like him, people with different shades of accusations, in a time when the Syrian detainees and disappeared file has turned into mere papers, which the opposition hold on to and carry to the halls of negotiations in “Astana,” “Geneva” and perhaps “Sochi,” in which they failed to find a solution or at least uncover the destiny of dozens of thousands of the names appended in this file.
To the day, the security branches’ detention centers are still striving with detainees who are suffering none-stop acts of torture and of whom dozens turn into names documented as victims in monthly statistical reports issued by human rights organizations.
Accurate Details in Four Meters
To shed a light on the secrets of the Military Security Branch, Enab Baladi interviewed Abu Hussain, who was detained in March 2017 at the check point of the town of Khirbet Ghazaleh while he was on his way to the capital Damascus on a regular working visit. He started talking with a description of the first moments. He said: “I was hand cuffed and blindfolded. They drove me into a car without a charge. A half and an hour later, they got me out of the car and I went down a flight of stairs, 30 steps under the ground.”
For the whole duration, Mohammad did not have the slightest idea about the destination or the nature of the charge.
“When we arrived, I was admitted into a room with a man sitting behind a desk. He started telling me about my belongings to register them, and then he made me sign a paper with my fingerprint without allowing me to read it. He ordered me to take all my clothes off then took off my belt and shoelaces. They took me to a cell, adjacent to the former room,” he added.
Abu Hussain assumes that a complete hour passed between the moment of detention and his admittance to the cell. Back then, he did not know that he was inside the Military Security Branch in the city of Daraa and that he was about to start a story of torture that will last for more than eight months.
“Panic was the first feeling to take hold of me immediately after they got me into the cell, then came shock upon seeing dozens of prisoners in there. They conjoined to warm up due to the biting cold.”
Mohammad described the Military Security Branch’s cell, which contained 60 detainees, as a six-meter-long and four-meter-wide room adjoined by a six-meter-long and about a meter and a half wide vault, in addition to two bathrooms only and a single ventilation hole over the wall. The height of the hole was no more than 30 centimeters.
Each three men shared a single blanket, with which they covered the ground to overcome its coldness using their clothes only in an attempt to keep themselves warm, according to the detainee, who said that at the moment of entering the room, men swarmed around him and started to ask questions, most of these were about the battle of al-Manshia neighborhood in the city of Daraa, during which the area witnessed the “Death Rather than Humiliation” campaign that started in February 2017 and ended with the opposition taking control over the neighborhood.
Mohammad, who faced a storm of inquiries about the reality of negotiations concerning prisoners’ exchange or the release of detainees, was surprised with the sound of a loud explosion that shook the cell before a prisoner could tell him that “there is an artillery system beside the Branch that keeps shelling day and night,” pointing to the “132 Brigade” based in the al-Sahari neighborhood close to the Military Security Branch.
All Detainees Share a Single Charge
A few hours following the detention, a jailor came and called Mohammad’s name; he blindfolded him and led him to an adjacent room.
The former detainee started to unfold the details of the preliminary investigation. He said: “A person asked me about my name and personal information, and then he accused me that I came to Daraa to monitor coordinates for terrorists. I was telling him that I was heading to Damascus when someone kicked me on the back and started beating me, while he ordered me to give him the names of the people for whom I am working.”
Despite the torture, Mohammad kept denying the accusations, and they took him back to the cell. Later on, he knew that all detainees shared the same charge, for Assad’s forces have increased arbitrary arrests of civilians in the shadow of the violent clashes that Daraa’s neighborhoods were witnessing, and the Military Security Branch was the concentration point where all detainees were held.
On the second day of detention, Abu Hussain shifted from the state of shock and panic to acceptance of the new reality and adaptation.
He continued the interview with more focus on the daily details of the prisoners’ life within the Security Branch. Everyday, they bring a bile of bread and each detainee gets tow loafs of bread as his daily share, in addition to two big containers that are supposedly filled with rice or pasta, which contents are usually stolen by the Branch’s officers who leave only the “salty water,” with which pasta was cooked.
The former detainee explained that for months they were not offered any type of vegetables and no changes were made to the food’s quality, a thing according to which he lost weight, 35 kilograms in eight months.
Mohammad also mentioned the prisoners’ food crisis during the month of fasting, Ramadan. He said: “Food did not change at all, not even the time of delivery, for the bread and the two big containers were brought in the morning and we waited for Iftar. We used to look out through the available window to make sure that it was the correct time to eat. As a result for the high temperature during Ramadan and the long days, the bread and the two containers used to smell very bad, despite this we had no other choice but to eat this food.”
Bathing was not better than food. According to Abu Hussain, bathing was “an optional torture,” for the detainees had no other clothes but the ones they wore when they were first arrested.
“When you decide to take a bath, you must wash your clothes to get rid of lice and other small bugs. To take a bath, we naturally had to use cold water, and if you wanted to stay alive and to mitigate diseases, you are forced to bath whenever you could,” he said.
Stories that Have no Endings
In time, Abu Hussain’s life turned into “routine and surrender.” Nothing changed in his life but the new stories that came with the new detainees.
When I entered the detention center, I was surprised by the fact that many of the detainees surrounded me and asked me dozens of questions. Sometimes they did not leave any chance to answer. I thought that this lacked care for the detainee who is under shock. However, in time, I started to do the same with any new detainee because, from him, you might hear a news that would give you some hope for days,” he added.
Some time later, each detainee becomes a book that contains the stories of many people, in addition to their phone numbers. “Each detainee tries to give his prison[mates] his family’s phone number, so they would call them incase they were released before the prisoner himself. The most to get excited about this were the newly detained people. A week or two later, this stops to be a priority.”
Mohammad concluded his story saying: “Everyday, the detainee lives a battle against himself and tries to find a hope to stay alive […] The greatest battle is against yourself awaiting the day on which you will be released. Inside the center, the detainee’s pleasure is limited to a fresh loaf of bread, hot water, hearing a good news from one of the new detainees or saying goodbye to a friend that has been released.”
According to the detainee, “no detainee can describe his joy when he is released, because that joy will be mixed with too much pain after realizing that the prisons are still full of detainees, and that this story will accompany you for life.”
Mohammad was released in November 2017, after eight months through which he failed to know the reason behind his imprisonment or release, unlike many other detainees whose stories are still without endings and unlike thousands of detainees whose stories ended with a news titled: “Died under Torture.”