Thursday, June 9, 2011

Syria's Dictator Assad's Regime of Torture

Assad's Regime of Torture

Dictator Assad reaffirms his father's legacy of death by quelling dissent with brute force


Ali, an Allawite, the sect from which the Assad family and much of the ruling elite hail, was captured by secret police during a small protest in Mezze, a suburb of Damascus.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Ali said the beating began as soon as he was on the bus to prison. "You are Alawite and you don't like Bashar?" the police officer screamed at him. "Are you with the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood?"

The fist landed square in his face as Ali tried to explain that the protesters were not fundamentalist Salafi Muslims. Ali was taken to the notorious Air Force security branch in Bab Touma, a stone throw away from the Old City where tourists were enjoying the sights.

The interrogator had footage from the protest filmed on a phone, showing Ali chanting for freedom. "He got up and walked behind me, grabbed my hair and slammed my face into the table. He was really angry."

Ali's hands were tied behind his back while he was punched in the face repeatedly. "He told me to confess I was there, and who had organized it, and was it someone from outside Syria?"

Blindfolded, Ali was driven to another prison, where, still unable to see, he was beaten, pushed down stairs and had cigarettes stubbed out on his back. Again the interrogator wanted to know if he was allied with Islamist groups, this time Hezb ut-Tahrir.

By contrast, Abu Mohammed's interrogators appeared less certain who to blame for the uprising they were struggling to contain.

Arrested from his Damascus home in late March, the journalist was taken, along with his laptop and mobile phone, to a branch of Internal Security on Baghdad Street.

The cell was already filled with protesters rounded up that day.

"We were hundreds so it was hard for interrogators to deal with us. They are used to tens being arrested at a time, not hundreds," he said.

For the next sixteen days Abu Mohammed followed the same routine: Dragged into an interrogation room and punched in the face.

"The interrogators were simple and uneducated men, they just shouted at me and hit me if I disagreed. They didn't know what they wanted."

The journalist was asked for his email address. "He asked me what ‘Hotmail' means. I answered in a simple and direct way. The main thing I realised was to answer what they wanted to hear, not what I thought."

His father's footsteps

The uprising in Syria began with the
torture of children: 15 boys, aged between 10 and 15, from Deraa, who were beaten and had their finger nails pulled out by men working for General Atef Najeeb, a cousin of President Assad.

Two months into the most serious threat to the decades-old dictatorship, the jails in some cities are already full. As well as holding prisoners in the power station in Banias, security forces have also begun using a local sports stadium to hold hundreds of detainees, according to eyewitness accounts gathered by activists.

The release of all political prisoners has become a unifying cry among protesters across the country, who began by calling merely for reform and an end to corruption and who now demand the toppling of the president and his regime.

Like the father from whom he inherited power, President Assad has sought to crush the uprising against him with force and mass arrests.

During a campaign of repression against the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s under late President Hafez al-Assad, some 17,000 Syrians disappeared, according to testimony to the United Nations Human Rights Council by Radwan Ziadeh, head of the Damascus Centre for Human Rights Studies.

And in a chilling parallel to the actions of his father, who responded to the Muslim Brotherhood uprising by sending tanks and ultra-loyal troops commanded by his brother to raze Hama, killing between 10,000 and 30,000 civilians, President Assad has laid siege to Deraa, Homs and Banias with tanks and troops commanded by his brother, Maher al-Assad.

Today, in two months of protests, Syrian security forces have killed an estimated 850 people.

On Wednesday, Syria dropped its bid to join the UN Human Rights Council, which has ordered a fact-finding mission to Syria to investigate human rights abuses.

After eight days in a windowless two by two meter dungeon deep underground, Ali was freed without charges. His wallet, with half the money stolen, was returned, but he was too weak to drive home so took a taxi to a friend's place, too ashamed to let his parents see.

"The worst is you don't know what will happen. You and your family have no idea what is going on," said Ali who, despite his experience, remains unbowed.

"I have seen personally the real ugly face of security, and it is much uglier than I thought. I will protest again because now I really realize what freedom means. If we give up now we will all be arrested again anyway."

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