Syrian Refugee Gives Vivid Description Of Torture

Jun 20, 2011

When Syria's mukhabarat, the secret police, couldn't get Abu Ali to tell them the names of the leading activists in his town of Jisr al-Shughour, the 43-year-old says they blindfolded him and tied his hands and feet to an apparatus on the floor.

His interrogators told him he was about to take a trip on the "Flying Carpet."

"I felt my body coming off the ground, then they beat me with a cable on my legs and feet. I could stand it on the legs, but on the feet it was extremely painful," he says. "This was the first stage of the Flying Carpet."

Abu Ali is now in one of the Turkish refugee camps holding more than 10,000 Syrians who fled the brutal crackdown by Syrian troops and shabiha paramilitary forces. He spoke to NPR by phone, since access to Syrians in the camp is severely restricted by Turkey.

Abu Ali said he was rounded up with dozens of men from Jisr al-Shughour in a predawn sweep by security forces as the regime tried to quell protests that had spread from Daraa in the south to virtually every province in Syria.

Abu Ali's account could not be independently verified, but partial corroboration came from Jisr al-Shughour residents camped along the Turkish border. Longtime Syrian activist Tamar Lawan, himself a torture victim, interviewed them and said they described a May 15 predawn house-to-house raid that matched Abu Ali's description.

"They broke the door, even when the women [were] sleeping, and they collected like 35 persons from the village and they [took] them to the city, to Idlib," he says.

Abu Ali says after the heavy cable, they beat him with a thinner, more stinging cable. Then, he says, they started with the electricity, in three stages: bad, excruciating and indescribable.

"The last stage is horrible," he says. "Your body shakes violently — you can't control it, and when you scream no sound comes out. When they finally stopped, I was paralyzed for a while. I couldn't move."

Groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned Syrian forces for allegedly torturing both activists and ordinary citizens, including children.

Amnesty International has the names of 17 people who it says "appear to have died" as a result of torture. Graphic video footage appearing to show torture wounds on the body of a 13-year-old boy who died in custody provoked international outrage.

Among the refugees, stories of rape being used as an instrument of intimidation or retribution are widespread, though impossible to verify.

While Abu Ali and the other Jisr al-Shughour men were being interrogated last month, a leading sheik from the town had taken the unusual step of going to Idlib with a delegation to demand their release. Abu Ali says he learned about this only after they were freed the next day.

He says if the regime had hoped to intimidate townspeople with a terrifying show of force, their plan backfired.

"We got back to town and all these people were there — it was a huge rally," he says. "People weren't getting scared, they were getting angry. It's the same everywhere. After the crackdown in Daraa, there were bigger demonstrations in Homs, and the same in Banias. The more damage the security forces inflict, the bigger the protests become."

In President Bashar al-Assad's latest address to the nation, he blamed the violence on a small band of unnamed "saboteurs." But as anti-Assad chants continue to rise from Syrians camped on the border, it seems less and less likely that the standard tactics of repression will restore the stability the regime so badly desires.

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