Passport

New Amnesty Report Describes the Hell of Assad’s Prisons

Former prisoners recount physical and psychological torture

A picture taken on February 6, 2014, shows the Aleppo central prison during clashes between pro-Syrian regime soldiers and rebel fighters. Syrian troops retook most of Aleppo's prison, lost to rebels a day earlier, in fighting that has killed at least 46 people over two days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. AFP PHOTO/AMC/ZEIN AL-RIFAI        (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on February 6, 2014, shows the Aleppo central prison during clashes between pro-Syrian regime soldiers and rebel fighters. Syrian troops retook most of Aleppo's prison, lost to rebels a day earlier, in fighting that has killed at least 46 people over two days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. AFP PHOTO/AMC/ZEIN AL-RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)

“I have the ability to kill you here, and no one will ask questions.” That was what Abu Anas’s interrogator at a Syrian Air Force Intelligence branch in Aleppo told him before demanding Anas pay for his release with a $100,000 bribe. To show he was serious, the interrogator shot another prisoner in the head as Anas watched. “Bashar is God,” the interrogator told him the next day. “He can give life, and he can take life.”

Anas, an Aleppo businessman who was arrested at a protest in 2011, was, in a grim sense, lucky — he was able to bribe his way out of prison. He was a tragic exception: An Amnesty International report released late Wednesday found that almost 18,000 people died in Syrian state custody between 2011 and 2015.

Those who survived described hellish conditions that included overcrowded cells, long periods of solitary confinement, humiliation and sexual harassment by guards, as well as lack of food, water, sanitation, and medical care.  

Prisoners were sometimes held in cells with dead bodies for hours or days. Others were subjected to mock executions, threats against family members, and physical and psychological torture. Some were forced to watch as guards beat other detainees with objects like hoses and maces.

One prisoner, Muhannad, told investigators from the advocacy group that he tried to kill himself by grabbing a live electrical wire when, after days of torture, the guards convinced him that they were also beating his mother.

The report found that anyone who the government saw as a threat — including human rights activists, journalists, and people who provide aid to civilians — was at risk of being arbitrarily snatched, tortured, and detained in prisons where they might die in custody due to abuse and bad conditions.

Torture and harsh treatment are nothing new for Syria’s prisons — the regimes of both President Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez, have used them as tools of intimidation for decades — but they’ve gotten worse since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. While the regime continues to deny that human rights violations are taking place — while also keeping human rights investigators out of their prisons — groups like Amnesty have been able to gather information by interviewing former captives. Read the full report here.

Photo credit: ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. @megan_alpert
A decade of Global Thinkers

A decade of Global Thinkers

The past year's 100 most influential thinkers and doers Read Now

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola