Detained, tortured and forced to flee for his life: A Syrian human rights defender recounts his experience, and calls for action from the international community to end the violence and ill-treatment against the Syrian people.
Torture and violence in Syria is reaching unprecedented and gruesome levels. Since the beginning of the popular uprising in March more than 200 people held in custody have lost their lives from torture and severe ill-treatment.
Abdul Karim Rehawi, the head of the Syrian Human Rights League, has survived President Assad’s repression. I spoke with him about his experiences in Syria and his demands for immediate support of the international community to stop the massacre and to claim justice and freedom for all Syrian citizens. We met outside Syria as he was forced to flee with his family due to direct death threats to himself and his immediate relatives.
Mr. Rehawi has campaigned for human rights and supported victims of torture in Syria since the establishment of President Assad’s regime. But during the last decades, he said he has never witnessed such widespread use of torture as he has seen since the beginning of the uprising in March.
In May Mr. Rehawi was arrested and brutally tortured by the men of the Assad’s regime. He was brought to an unknown place of detention in Damascus, blindfolded and handcuffed by iron wire; afterwards he was electrocuted and severely beaten on his hands. He was then hanged by his hands for 10 to 11 hours and beaten and kicked all over his body, during which he lost consciousness three times.
His tortures accused him of talking to the international media about “Syrian affairs”.
After being hanged, he was brought to the floor, where new beatings began and his body dragged, as a floor-wipe, all around the torture chamber. Then his torturers forced their shoes into his mouth, and he lost consciousness again.
During this period no questions were raised to Mr. Rehawi; his torture was only aimed at providing a form of punishment and intimidation.
After less than 48 hours, Mr. Rehawi was brought to a different place of detention in Damascus where more beating began, but this time he was questioned over his human rights work. Eventually he was brought to a detention centre.
Mr. Rehawi’s accounts of the treatment reserved to prisoners are no less violent than the torture he suffered. It is estimated that since March the total number of detainees has gone up from 4,000 to an astonishing 70,000; places of detention are now exploding with people.
Mr. Rehawi was confined in a room of about 22 square metres where, at some point, another 42 detainees were kept with him; the room had little light and no direct access to fresh air. In these conditions, the guards imposed harsh treatments on the detainees, who were forced to stand and face the wall during sudden inspections that were repeated several times during the day and night. Detainees were forced to access the toilettes only if stripped of their clothes and by crawling on the floor; on their way they were beaten. Some prisoners decided to stop or reduce their eating and drinking to avoid the need for toilettes.
Mr. Rehawi shared other stories of protesters being killed after brutal tortures. The corpse of one protester was returned to his family with a stick inserted from his anus and forced out of his body from the shoulder. Another corpse was returned to his family with parts of his body sawed together, as after a surgical intervention, which raised additional fears of organs extracted for trade. One protester was killed by crucifixion.
These are horrific tales. Torture and other horrific stories of ill-treatment continue unabated under the Assad regime, and the international community must take action now.
The international community of states and civil society must denounce the repression led by President Assad. Permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, China and Russia, need to revise taken action. The League of Arab States must underline that the current regime has forfeited its legitimacy and suspend Syria’s membership.
Giorgio supports the IRCT’s programmes in the Middle East North Africa and Asia, including working with the region’s member centres and other institutions to promote a culture for prohibition of torture.