Getting detained in Syria: it's nail-biting stuff

A reflection: many years ago, back in my early days at Amnesty (a very long time ago, actually) there was a leaflet which asked people to think about everyday household items and how they can be used for non-conventional means. Well, actually, how they could be used to torture people.

The two examples I remember are the chilli peppers and the clothes iron.

What about them? Well, you guessed it. There were documented cases where crushed chillis had been rubbed into someone's eyes and another where some sadist-interrogator had been burning his victims with a hot iron.

I used to think about all this when there was (good) campaigning going on to ban the international trade in torture equipment. Dont get me wrong, I definitely think Chinese-made electro-shock batons and thumbscrews and other disgusting made-in-the-PRC torture gear should be outlawed but at the same time, it's pretty damn obvious that if a torturer wants to inflict pain they don't really need special equipment to do it. They're ingenious critters, them torturers

Like in Syria where some lucky person at Amnesty has counted at least 38 different types of torture used by the security services. I'll spare you all 38, but here are five: having electric shocks administered to the body (including the penis); being beaten with bamboo sticks; having fingernails pulled out; extinguishing cigarettes on arms and other limbs; and being strapped to the so-called German Chair, where the back rest is lowered to cause hypertension of the spine and severe stress to the neck and other parts of the body.

The use of torture and even the methods used is apparently such common knowledge in Syria that new detainees have been known to bite their fingernails to try to stop torturers getting the pliers under  . well, you get the picture.

Grim stuff, but hey, it'll probably never happen to you will it? I wouldn't be too confident about that, actually. Right now a British mother of four from west London called Maryam Kallis is being held in secret somewhere in Syria, two and half weeks after being picked up in a busy street in Damascus by about 10 plain-clothes men (ie very likely members of the country's sinister and virtually unaccountable security services). 

Maryams husband is doing the right thing trying to get some attention over his missing wifes plight, doing media interviews and getting the Foreign Office involved. Ive done a few BBC interviews on the case myself (sandwiched between MPs expenses and Shearers return to Newcastle). Its been standard were concerned stuff, but its all about getting it on Syria's governmental radar so they cant ignore it.

We don't know that Maryam has been mistreated, but 17 days of state-sponsored abduction and secret detention in a place like Syria is no laughing matter. Please take action here to pressure the Syrian authorities to produce Maryam.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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