Syria: how much more horror …?

Earlier in the week I watched that video clip where a person using a video camera to film events (said to be in Homs, Syria) appears to be shot by a person in uniform seen pointing his weapon towards the camera.

Quite honestly, it’s horrifying. It’s a sort of literal – and possibly deadly – point-of-view shot that you never expect to actually see. From the audio it sounds as if the man has been badly wounded (you can hear groaning) and also as if there are others (thankfully) who come to his assistance.

The person who apparently shoots him seems to do so casually. There’s seemingly no provocation and the circumstances don’t seem to justify lethal force. This may not be the case – only a proper investigation would probably tell us that – but it certainly looks that way when you see the footage.

How much more of this is there going to be in Syria? The situation seems, if anything, to be deteriorating.  On top of the almost daily reports of fresh “incursion”-style raids by security forces into major, well-known cities like Homs and Hama, there have been ones into lesser-known towns like Tell Kalakh near the Lebanese border in the west.

Here’s what a 28-year-old man “Wael” (not his real name) from Tell Kalakh told Amnesty on the 9 June. He says he was accused of filming demonstrations on his phone and was taken from his home on 16 May along with more than 50 others. They were taken to al-Boloneh Prison in Homs and ordered to strip naked in front of each other so that their clothes could be searched. Then, he said:

They placed us all in a big room and there I saw the bruises and cuts on the faces of people detained with me caused by the beatings we received during arrest. Everyone started pressing their hands against their arms and moving them to get rid of the numbing effect resulting from having their hands tied; some of their arms had turned blue.

“Then someone called out the names of 26 detainees, including mine, and handed us over to Military Security, who took us to their detention facility in Haj Atef Square in Homs. There, they beat us up and called us names, such as ‘donkeys’…

“They blindfolded me, tied my hands up and took me to an interrogator… He said: ‘Why do you want the fall of the regime?’ I said: ‘We don’t, we just want our freedom.’ As soon as I said that, beatings from all directions began and I felt I had no energy, and then they threw me in a room filled with dozens of other detainees.

“The following day… [the interrogator] dragged me to the guard and asked him to place me in the shabah position. I remained dangling like that for around six hours. The interrogator would come and go and ask: ‘Who called for jihad? Who incited the people in Tell Kalakh against the regime?’ I repeatedly said that no one did. The interrogator threatened that I would receive the same torture as those people whose shrieks of pain could be heard. He then splashed water on my back and applied an electric shock to me, which made my body jerk involuntarily and slam against a wall hard… He applied electric shocks to my body four times during the six-hour period when I was hanging from my wrists…

“He took me to another room and ordered someone to tie my hands behind my back. Then he brought a vehicle wheel and folded me in a way so that my feet and head and neck were inside the tyre. He turned me on my back so that my feet were pointing upwards, and used a stick with ropes on both edges to bring both feet together. He then hit me hard on the soles of my feet with a baton. As he hit me, he shouted: ‘Who incited the people of Tell Kalakh against the regime?’ At this point, I was screaming from pain, then I shouted back: ‘Everyone in Tell Kalakh was an inciter, everyone in Tell Kalakh was an inciter’…  

“I was transferred with a group of detainees to the Military Police-run al-Qabun prison in Damascus, stayed there for around four hours and then was taken to the Palestine Branch [a Military Security-run detention centre in Damascus] where we were received with their special welcome of beatings and swearing. A man in our group had been giving testimonies to Al Jazeera as an eyewitness and, as soon as he was identified, they took him to a solitary confinement cell and he told me later that for the eight days he spent there, he was placed in the shabah position…

“When we were finally being released, a senior prison official warned us that if we spoke with anyone about who was inside the prison or what had happened, we would return to prison. 

I know this is only a blog post (“keep it to 500 words, tops”, I was once told about blogging) but I thought for a change I’d give a lengthier account of the true horror of what's been happening in Syria. For yet more disturbing detail on Tell Kalakh, see this 22-page Amnesty report, out today. (See the Amnesty page on Syria for more background and also please take action on the pre-protests case of Dr Kamal al-Labwani, evidence, if evidence were needed, of how Syria was already extremely repressive before all this began).

Amid the daily grind of the news cycle (including the “repetitious” nature of events in Syria), it’s easy to lose sight of the human cost of those slightly anonymous-sounding news bulletins where “24 people were reported killed today …”.

Instead, the case of someone like Majd al-Kurdy (pictured, poignantly enough, with protests showing on a TV behind him) brings it home to you. On 17 May he was arrested in Tell Kalakh along with several others (including his brother So’dat). He was shot in the hand and ill-treated during the arrest. Twelve days later his body (showing clear signs of torture and mutilation) was returned to the family. His funeral took place the same day.  

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