Hama's central prison: tales of pain and terrorism

Hama's central prison: tales of pain and terrorism
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Torture in Syrian Prisons: Old and New Cases



Arabic Language


Caesar's file was introduced in private meetings of the US Senate last year. Caesar is a pseudonym for a defected member of the Syrian army’s Military Police who caused a sensation in early 2014 by defecting with 55,000 photographs documenting the torture and killing of 11,000 detainees at the hands of the Syrian security establishment. They died under torture in the dungeons of the security branches. The Caesar file is the most solid legal evidence on the liquidation of political prisoners in Syrian prisons.


Since the security forces pulled out children`s toenails in Dara’a after they painted on the walls the slogan "The People Want to Overthrow the Regime," the Syrian regime continues committing massacres, and no power in the world has prevented the physical liquidation of Syrians in clandestine or undeclared prisons. Its militias did not stop trying sophisticated methods to commit massacres against civilians, using all types of weapons up to and including improvised weapons.


Torture and human rights violations in Syria is nothing new. Since Hafez al-Assad took power following a military coup in 1970 (the corrective movement), the military authority did not forget anyone. They threw thousands of his political opponents, from leftists and Islamists to Arab nationalists, Kurds and others in detention. Roughly 1,200 prisoners in Palmyra prison were executed in 1980. The campaign, which lasted for years, culminated with the Hama city massacres in 1982, in which nearly 40 thousand civilians died and thousands were liquidated, in addition to the displacement of many residents. This was done in order to declare himself the absolute ruler of Syria, and to remind Syrians that his word was supreme, down to the random liquidation that affected many young Kurds in an 2004 uprising.



In Syria today dozens of families receive phone calls from the security branches, asking those related to political prisoners to contact them in order to receive personal documents for their children after they died under torture.


The case of human rights in Syria under the rule of Assad and his son is known to the world. This is confirmed by many political prisoners during the rule of Hafez al-Assad, and narrated by Syrian poet Faraj Bayrakdar, who said in one of the interviews that he was released from prison after pressure from French organizations.


Another detainee who talked to Suwar Magazine confirmed that his, "…release was after French President Jacques Chirac personally asked Bashar al-Assad, during one of his visits to Syria.”

The Syrian holocaust has lasted four years. And the new element in this holocaust is the entry of foreign groups and militias from around the world, most notably the organization of ISIS which is creating new ways of torturing and murdering their opponents, ranging from slaughter and burning, all the way to putting them in water basins until they die by drowning.



On the occasion of the International Day for the Victims of Torture, on the 26th of June, you must ask a fundamental question: Are Syrian activists failing in raising the voice of the tortured to the world? Or is the connection between human rights with politics and international relations preventing the achievement justice for the oppressed?

On this occasion Suwar Magazine opens the case of political prisoners in the Central Prison of Hama, to provide their personal stories, in an attempt to document their daily lives. 






Unfair Judgment and Clamping Down Inside the Prison Push the Detainees to Declare Hunger Strike




Kamal Al-Serouji


Political detainees in the central prison of Hama began an open hunger strike on the 17th of June, 2015 in protest against the unjust judgments rendered by the anti-terrorism court in Damascus against about 50 detainees from the popular movement against the regime. They ended their strike on the sixth day of its inception (23rd of June).


Abul Fateh al-Hamwi, one of the detainees, told the Magazine, "We have started a strike to protest against the unjust death sentences issued against our comrades. Our demands were clear; they are to re-examine the provisions of life imprisonment and executions, and field sentences against detainees, especially those who were transferred from Sednaya prison."



"We had to end the strike on the 23rd of June because of the abandonment of international organizations and revolutionary institutions. We hope that our voice reaches through to the revolutionary institutions, such as the National Coalition and the interim government and human rights organizations, but it seems no one cares about the issue of detainees," he continued.


"The detainees have suffered the trouble of food deprivation, torture and verbal abuse from prison police for six days, hoping to improve the situation. We do not want aid from the United Nations and the Red Crescent, nor ask for food baskets, we just want fair trials to get us out of the hell in which we live," he added.



Abu Al-Nur, another detainee, told Suwar Magazine, "The majority of the charges against us are related to terrorism, despite the fact that many of us were prisoners in 2011 and 2012, when originally there was no use of a weapon in the revolutionary activities. Actually, most of us participated in peaceful demonstrations and activities only. However, we have been accused of terrorism and supporting it, and participation in taking up arms and killing security forces, military and police officers."


He concluded by saying, "We have accepted to meet with Chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission in the province of Hama, Mahmoud Sbahi, who made promises about the arrival of the Ministers of National Reconciliation and Justice. We know they are empty promises, but we have no choice but to catch the liar behind the door [keep listening till he tells the truth]."


When it comes to the prison conditions he says, "Things never calm down, we will escalate the situation, and we will declare an indefinite strike if our demands are not met by fair trials. We have nothing to lose, our whole life is a continuous humiliation and torment."


Beginning of the story


The Syrian Network for Human Rights documented 56 rulings issued by the anti-terrorism court against political prisoners since the beginning of the month of June. Eight were sentenced to death, and twelve rulings were changed by the Presidential Amnesty Decree, issued at the beginning of Ramadan, from death to life imprisonment, with a fine of 40 million pounds.


Twenty-five people were sentenced to prison terms of twenty years, and eleven to terms ranging from twelve to fifteen years. The court issued a death sentence to seven detainees to take place on June 21, bringing the number of those sentenced to death to fifteen youths.


Media obfuscation


In wake of the spread the strike news, the Syrian regime media entered the prison through the “Syria Engages in Dialogue" program, which plays on official television. They presented interviews with some of the prisoners, and asked them about life within the prison, and broadcasted details about their daily lives.


A number of prisoners confirmed for Suwar Magazine that the television program entered an extension wing, which is attached to the prison building and not within it. It houses nearly 100 prisoners who are mainly from regime forces and the its militias, and who were punished for violating military orders. Abu Al-Nour says, "The meetings with these people were held under orders from the leadership of the prison. Photographers did not approach the wings of political prisoners, and did not talk to any of them".


Life in the prison


Inmates are living a life of great difficulty, in the absence of any independent legal oversight, and the absence of a neutral media to put their case to the world.


Each thirty detainees is being held in a room not exceeding 45 square meters, consisting of military bunk beds.


Each prisoner gets a bed-sized space on which he must sleep, eat and spend his day. The prison administration provides two meals a day; breakfast and lunch - dinner is absent.


Abul Fateh commented on prison food, saying, "Breakfast usually consists of a ration of vegetable butter weighing 200 grams, divided by six people, and a boiled egg for each of us. As for lunch, it is a meal of rice or bulgur or soup, all of which are cooked in a bad way. Our food is like animal food, but we are used to it in order to survive."


In prison, there is a vegetable stand, a small restaurant, laundry for clothing and a place to shave. There is a primitive oven for bread, but the right to use it is granted through an auction run the prison administration to announce a tender for its usage; no ordinary citizens can participate in it.


"Crisis traffickers win the tender permanently. They are not always supporters of the regime, but rather opposition members who live high on the backs of the poor and vulnerable by monopolizing the market and raising prices. The prison Director and his assistant get a share of the profits from the shops in the prison, as the owners are working in their favor," Abul Fateh added.



Spread across these shops is trade in grain, narcotic drugs and cannabis. No detainee complains about this phenomenon, because traders offer bribes and gifts for everyone on a daily basis, starting from the prison administration and even the smallest element in it."


Prisoners who talked to Suwar Magazine agree that a non-smoking detainee needs between 15-20 thousand pounds monthly to secure his basic requirements.


Abul Fateh says, "In Hama prison everyone is poor." He continues, "Even a rich person cannot communicate with his family to send him money, and therefore everyone is alike.”

“Among us there are almost 200 detainees from rural northern and eastern Damascus, who were transferred from Adra prison to Hama prison beginning in 2015 in the wake of attacks carried out by opposing battalions on Adra. Then the regime accused prisoners of dealing with the FSA, and chose to remove 1,600 people and deploy them to several prisons. Hama prison received 200 of them."



He adds, "The situation of these detainees is very, very bad. Their families are either trapped in Ghouta, Damascus, or cannot visit them because a family member is wanted by the regime, or are they are homeless in the countries they fled to such as Lebanon and Turkey. Thus they live a miserable life, and no money reaches them."




According to all of the detainees the Magazine talked with, the prison includes a small dispensary which does not offer the required medical care. It is visited by a colonel officer doctor on a regular basis, and a pharmacist assists him. Abu Al-Nour says, "Treatment is at our own expense completely. We register the drug in the dispensary, and we pay the price from our own pockets, and even then we know that we cannot get all kinds of medicines."


Another detainee added, "The dispensary is selling narcotic substances and grains, such as baltan and captagon, in addition to cannabis. The prison administration is aware of this."



Unlike the rest of the known and clandestine regime prisons, in Hama prison political prisoners are allowed visitors once a week for half an hour, from behind bars. Although the visits are allowed, the families of the detainees are subjected to harassment and financial blackmail.



One of the detainees told Suwar Magazine, "As a result of the frequent harassment of my wife during the visit, I asked her to only visit me once a month. Detainees dream of visits and hate them at the same time. After the visits end we are inspected thoroughly, because they fear the arrival of letters related to the revolution inside of the prison."


With a sad tone he continues, "After each visit and when I go back to the dungeon, I feel very sad, no one visits many of my comrades and they do not know the fate of their parents."


Facts and information on the central prison of Hama


Located near the Damascus-Aleppo highway, near the thirtieth street, adjacent to the industrial area.

Includes 1,350 detainees: 700 political charges related to the revolution, and 650 criminal charges.

It also includes several wings for detainees charged with crimes and misdemeanors (murder, drugs, theft, traffic violations, rape). The prisoners of the revolution are distributed throughout five wings with the following names: Terrorism 1, Terrorism 2, Terrorism 3, Terrorism 4, and the extension wing which is located outside the core prison block.


Hama prison does not include women, but includes 20 children, their charges ranging from criminal to political.






Hama Prisoners: Our Trial Was a Farce that Lasted No More Than 30 Seconds




Sami Al-Halabi


The Damascus anti-terrorism court, which was established in 2012 as an alternative to the State Security Court and is affiliated to the Ministry of Justice, has been prosecuting most of the political prisoners on trial in the central prison in Hama. Since its inception, this court has been known as nothing but a cover for the state security branches.


Atef al-Hamwi, one of the detainees, stated, "None of us knows the date of his trial until the jailer comes and reads out a set of names of persons who will be taken to their trials the next morning, which is often on Sunday."



The number of prisoners ranged at one time between 30 - 40. Hamwi continues: "Detainees are placed in a medium-sized car, gathered in a very narrow space not exceeding ten meters; there is no possibility to sit there at all. We wished that the vehicle was traveling at full speed, in order for a larger amount of air to enter across the two windows, which did not exceed a quarter of a square meter.”


At the beginning, detainees are taken to Homs, using the road between Hama and Homs, which takes about an hour and a half. If the car travels through Hama, Homs and Salamia, away from Aleppo to Damascus International Highway, they fear attack by opposition battalions. In Homs detainees are handed over from the group of police officers to the Adra prison, then the procession sets off again across secondary roads, to be reach Adra prison almost by sunset.



Abu Al-Nur, another one of the detainees, says, "Going to trial for us is nothing more than a full day of mental exhaustion and incessant insults. Riding in this car, with this number [of people], for two hours, is enough to cause anyone a herniated disc.”


Upon entering Adra prison, the detainees are searched again. Abu Al-Nour says, "It is a very insulting inspection. They strip us of clothing and beat us with batons and hoses, arguing that we may carry weapons or sharp objects. After the inspection they push us to the outer dormitory. It is a room of almost 12 square meters, actually it is considered large in the eyes and concepts of Syrian prisoners. There is a small window in its corner, the smell is very unpleasant, in the corners there are coagulated blood stains, and there isn’t anything to sit on."


In this room are gathered between 170 -190 prisoners from various prisons waiting to be brought to trial. Everyone remains standing, perhaps for several days, because of space limitations. Abu Al-Nour says, "There is no possibility to do anything but stand firmly, also the list of prohibited materials and behaviors is very long, as it prevents the talk in politics or letting a beard grow. Visits and phone usage are banned as well, and there are two breaks per week, for a period of not more than one hour. Bathing is once a week with cold water in winter and summer. When detainees go to the bathroom they are accompanied by the batons of the jailers, so many people prefer not to shower."


A group of detainees in the outer dormitory Adra prison are transported by day through a long road that takes about two hours, heading for the Palace of Justice on the Mezze highway. Abu Nour says, "The journey to the court is more of a torment trip, where the insults are the wildest and more severe, affecting religious beliefs and honor. Also about 200 prisoners are put in an underground room which does not exceed 30 square meters."



He continued by saying, "I do not know why the most cruel jailers in Syrian jails have the name Abu Haidar! This head of jailers I am mentioning carries an electric baton, accompanied by a number of staff members carrying water hoses. Their beating does not distinguish between young or old, they assail every spot in our bodies with a wave of insults. At first many of us assumed that the Palace of Justice in Damascus was the most committed to the dignity of detainees, a home for equality, but rather, it is the worst. "


Detainees complain of unfair trials which do not allow them their basic rights, such as self-defense or hiring a lawyer, and they look upon these that as comic and lacking the most basic legal standards.



Abu Al-Nour describes a typical trial, saying, "The President of the court is usually accompanied by four of the shabiha for his protection, even though the detainees are handcuffed and their legs are in shackles. On his right hand sits the notary and to the left the prosecution. There are also three representatives from the National Security Council, and intelligence officers."

He continues, "Approximately 200 detainees are sent to prosecution on a daily basis. They enter in two batches, each of 100 people, to the court jail in a room next to the judge's room. Then we are presented to the judge in batches, each of 10 people. The files are stacked on top of each other in front of him, whereupon he begins to speak: ‘The son of so-and-so, you are accused of such-and-such, your case is postponed.’ "


Detainees who Suwar Magazine communicated with agree that, "…the trial does not last more than thirty seconds. The accused is not allowed to speak, and if he wants to talk, the shabiha bodyguards of the President of the court drag him outside."


Atef al-Hamwi mentions, "If the detainee was able to hire a lawyer to defend himself, the lawyer prevents him from talking, and his presence will be only a formality." He adds, "The longest trial could last one minute. The average is thirty seconds. Around 200 detainees are judged in about one hour only."


Then the detainees are taken back to the outer dormitory room at the Palace of Justice until the end of the day, to leave to Adra prison where they remain for a week or two.


Abu Al-Nour says, "When we stay a week in Adra, it means that we will stay another week in Homs, and they put us with the regime members and the shabiha who have been punished by intelligence services for committing multiple offenses. Here is yet another journey of exponential humiliation .


Imagine that you protested against these murderers who stole, who looted and destroyed the city, who killed people in your neighborhood, and you must live with them in the same place! The suffering is exponential because you cannot utter any word. They steal your food, monopolize the place where you sleep, and creating problems and strife in order to get you punished by the jailers. "


Atif says, "Can you imagine a two week trip for a trial lasting thirty seconds, where the detainee suffers all kinds of torture, insults and humiliation, and eventually the trial is postponed, and you have to start a new chapter to wait and hope for a fair trial that will not come, or wait for an amnesty to get us out of hell, or the victory of the opposition to liberate us and get us out of prison."




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