Helen Dayem and her daughter, Jannah, at the recent Syrian opposition meeting in Cairo, with Father Paolo Dall’Oglio
In the Syrian regime’s brutal government crackdown on peaceful protesters, the torture of innocent civilians started from day one with the world’s sudden horror after the release of Human Rights documents, in which the horrific torture methods being used inside the hospitals and prisons across Syria have caused widespread condemnation of Assad’s Human Rights abuses. I would like to offer to you this piece from my diary, written on 19.5.2011, at which time I had a journalist staying with me in Homs:
At about 7:30,our dear friend, a doctor, called telling us we would be receiving a special visitor who would be arriving in about half an hour. We waited, my journalist friend and I, wondering what to expect exactly. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang, and with apprehension I quickly ran into my garden and opened the garden gate, hopefully, before anyone noticed!
Very quietly, and very politely, four men entered my house through the kitchen and into my living room, where my new friend, a journalist, was waiting. After the usual formalities followed in this country, the greetings, and welcoming them into my home, there was an awkward silence for a few seconds. The doctor, who was with them, broke the awkwardness by introducing the three strangers with him, one of them noticeably having difficulty walking and wearing a glove on his right hand. I guessed that he was the man we had been waiting for.
The other two were introduced as another doctor, heavily bearded, and a friend of the special visitor, whom we later found out, was an honor to meet, deserved the respect of the nation, and truly, never to be forgotten. After agreeing that names weren’t important, and in fact too dangerous to mention, on both sides, the interview began.
He was a man of simple means, married with two children, and owned a small supermarket in Homs. His story was repeated by every other man we interviewed, being trapped in poverty, seeing no future, and frustrated by the fact that Homs is completely ruled by the government’s corruption in all offices, high prices, he wanted change, originally, not protesting for the fall of the government, but for changes. His horror story started the night of the clock square. The few thousand men, whose idea was to stay the night at the clock square, in Homs, had planned to sleep in shifts. This man, his brother, and two others, one his cousin and the other a friend, somehow managed to escape the area after the army and security forces came and started shooting into the crowds of protesters, and on stopping a taxi in the street, they sighed with relief, as they presumed themselves to be out of danger. But their safety was a far away dream, as their nightmare began!
The taxi driver was a government supporter, and guessing where they were escaping from, his route took them straight into the hands of a group of government supporters, gathered in a supermarket. The car screeched to a halt, and without any chance of breaking free, they were immediately pulled from the car, and savagely beaten very aggressively, until all four of them lost consciousness.
As he dared to open one eye, he found himself in a hospital, in Nuzha area of Homs. The pain he was feeling made him fall in and out of alertness, but he does remember someone saying, “these men are dead, take them downstairs to the cellar” under the hospital, where dead bodies were usually kept.
He told us that he would probably never know if these words were being spoken by someone trying to help them, but he couldn’t understand any other reason for a doctor to behave in this way, as they were still obviously breathing. Although whoever it was probably saved his life, he didn’t appreciate it until recently, because his fate, as was the fate of probably thousands of others, was to go to hell and back in 15 days!
He fell unconscious once again, waking up eventually in Homs Military hospital. In the small room with him were about 14 other men. Some looked seriously injured, one shot in the leg, and others with bloody wounds, but all of them swollen from the beatings they had received. He was stripped naked, and the moaning and cries of his new roommates were horrific. He was then blindfolded, but could clearly hear the sounds of people close to him being beaten.
He told us that one man was shot in his thigh, and the staff would enter the room every ten minutes beating them all, concentrating on their wounds, in order for the pain to be more unbearable, especially kicking the man in his wounded thigh, as he could clearly hear the grown man’s screams for help. They were not allowed to use toilets, and if any one of them messed on the floor they were beaten even harder. The ten minute floggings continued night and day for the whole five days, the monsters becoming tired and taking turns in their abominable acts.
Removing his glove, he showed us obvious scars on his fingers, and stitch marks, and his wrists were also scared, we looked in disbelief, as we knew that what we had heard so far was just the beginning. These men, whose only crime was to provoke the government with the word ‘Freedom’ were now paying the price. His story continued. my youngest daughter, helping with the translation, was becoming uncomfortable. Her sweet, innocent face, horrified by every word, as he spoke so quickly, incredibly eager for the world to know his story. We all encouraged him to take a few deep breaths, slow down, and give us the chance to make sure that everything would be perfectly translated. This he did, and then he continued.
His hands had been tied behind his back, and were so badly cut, because, regularly, even the nurses, would enter the room and slice his back with a scalpel, regularly over his tied hands, even one of his thighs had been sliced open, and left to heal, badly infected, and until now, it looked hideous. The deep cuts on his back had sometimes been stitched up, using any instruments available in the hospital, clean or dirty, it made no difference, because the stitching, without any anesthetic, was just another method of torture, as the wounds were immediately beaten or re-cut open.
During his time in the ‘hospital’ he was given no food or water, just once managing to remove the corner of his eye covering, he saw a bag of serum hanging, and edging towards it, he bit off the corner, and began to sip from the bag, in the hope that it would improve his chances of staying alive. Showing us burn marks on his body, he explained that, regularly, the despicable staff would heat up iron rods, on an open fire, and burn the inmates.
While still in the Military hospital the nurses would stand in front of him and his brother, still blindfolded, and stripped naked. The nurses would laugh out loud as they took bets on which could slap them hard enough for them to fall down. He said that his brother is still having hearing problems in his right ear from being slapped so hard by the nurses from Hell.
His five days of hospital ‘treatment’ were over, and he was taken, with the same group who had been arrested with him, to the Army Intelligence building to be interrogated. We looked in shock, as we imagined that he had been through all this, and hadn’t even been questioned yet! They probably didn’t even know his name! Personally, my fear was for what was to come, because anyone who’s lived in Syria knows that he was now heading for the worst place. These are the most terrifying people, no mercy, and to be caught in their clutches is often called a fate worse than death.
They are not stupid, and wait for you to fall into their traps, with a wrong word, or look. Interrogation is their specialty, no matter what forms of torture they use, and they are the masters of invention, you will talk, even admit to something you never did, just to be left alone.
God help this poor man, I felt his story seeping into every pore of my body, soaking into me, like a sponge, never to leave, to be a part of me forever. Choking back tears, we listened, as he still, eagerly continued.
In the Army Intelligence prison, there were so many people in the tiny room, they couldn’t sit down, and it was even difficult for them to turn around. They had to sleep, when they were allowed to, standing up, and leaning on each other. They were removed, one at a time for interrogation, and when returning prisoners to the cell, they had to push hardly on the door, in order for it to close, because of the number of people inside. When he was taken for questioning, he was made to wait alone, for six hours, standing up, listening to the screams of others, still inside the interrogation room, a deliberate method, used to put fear into the prisoners.
Eventually, he was pushed into the room, once again stripped naked, and tied by his wrists to a chain pulley. His body was then raised into the air, and beaten regularly. He was also tortured by electricity regularly, and at this time, he still hadn’t been asked any questions. This torture lasted from about 5:00 pm until 12:00 am the next day, then he was returned to his cell.
The next day, he went through the same form of torture, but they began to ask him questions. The questions they asked him made no sense. They questioned him about Hariri, and if he knew if President Hariri of Lebanon is supporting the opposition in Syria. This simple man didn’t even know who Hariri was, and became more confused than before. He was accused of many crimes, regularly beaten between questions. He was called a traitor, an Islamic extremist, and told his blood was pig’s blood, worth nothing. He was told to pray onto the picture of the president, laid out on the floor in front of him but he refused. Because he refused, he was sent back to the cell. He told us that, those who worshipped onto the photograph of the president, were set free. As a Muslim, I understood the reason he refused. Only God is to be worshipped, the Creator of all things, but in his position, personally, I would have done anything to be set free. I began to look at him with even more respect, if that was possible. How strong his faith was, I wish I could even come near to his belief that God would save him, if that was his fate, and if he died, he would die a martyr.
While in the custody of the Army Intelligence, they eventually took a statement from him. He had to tell them he had been beaten up by thugs in the street to explain his wounds, and then they put his fingerprints onto the paper. He stayed in their custody, longer than most, because of his refusal to worship the president, instead of God but after three or four days, he had lost track of time, he was taken to the Central prison of Homs. Jokingly, he called this prison the five star prison, compared to all the other places he had been, and he began to have hope that he might hang onto his life.
In this disgusting place, if you had no money then you had no food, and he had no money! Fortunately for him, if you can consider it lucky, his prison pajamas, which should be white, were so covered in blood, the guards considered him a risk. Not wanting him to be seen in this condition by anyone outside the insanity of their prison system, his family was called, and told to bring him some money in order for him to be given new prison clothing. He couldn’t possibly stand in front of a military judge in that condition!
After spending three days again, scrounging old bread from people, and drinking dirty water, his family brought money. A bag of stale bread would cost him 90 Syrian pounds, if you take into consideration that the same fresh bread costs only 15 Syrian pounds, it’s unbelievable to imagine that the guards were prepared to benefit from these peoples’ misery, even financially!
Because of the state of his injuries, and the amount of infections settings in, he was in unimaginable pain. The prison guards even managed to profit from their medical conditions, selling the prisoners antibiotics, usually costing 50 Syrian pounds, for 250 Syrian pounds.
He was also in the Central prison for three or four days, again losing track of time, when eventually, he was lead outside, to a courtyard. Shackled together with metal chains, a huge group waited to be questioned, one by one, by the Military judge.
When his turn came, trying to stand up straight, and in his new uniform, the judge asked him whether the statement he had made was true, and he told them that it was, “why are you here?’ the judge asked him,” I don’t know” he answered,” They brought me here.” “You shouldn’t be here”, the judge told him, and shouted for the guards to let him out. At last, this poor man who had done nothing, beaten, tortured, cut, electrified ,burnt, starved, and deprived of all normal human rights, was thrown into the street, with no shoes, no money. His relief overcoming his pain, he hitched a ride on a horse and cart, and hobbled through the streets, until he found his way home.
I must tell you, readers, that it has taken me three days to write this part of my diary, because the memory haunts me, and the thought that he is just one person, and there are thousands of people missing in Syria today, many of them dead, others going through the same horrors that this man endured, and lived to tell his story to me, you and to the world.
Silence is a crime! He refused to be silent, I refuse to be silent, and if you are reading this, you should refuse to be silent, this should not be happening in the modern world, but it is, and people know about it, and say nothing! But in this country the silence stops with me and my wonderful new friends, who are determined to do something right, by getting the news out to the world.
The doctors confirmed everything he had told us, especially about all his injuries, one of them, telling me alone, that he has serious spinal and nerve injuries from the cuts on his lower back area. I left the room, out of respect, leaving just the journalist to photograph all his injuries, as evidence that hopefully will help bring down the regime. I stood alone in the kitchen, my head in my hands, and my daughter went quietly into her bedroom. I cried silently, for all the people who had suffered and were still suffering, at the hands of these black hearted sinners, imagining my own son in the same position!
They left as they arrived, quietly, politely, thankfully, and we sat in shock, unable to think of a single word to say to each other. I decided to share this part of my diary, because this torture has gone on too long, now called despicable and unacceptable. But I wrote this more than a year ago. It was known about then, printed in newspapers by a journalist who was with me that night, never to be forgotten by myself but obviously overlooked by the world!
Helen Dayem is a Syrian Activist from Homs and mother to the brave Danny Abdul Dayem. Any opinions expressed in the article are those of the author.
(syriansun.info / 14.08.2012)