With Assad’s forces continuing to pound Aleppo with aircraft and artillery, and with the UN describing conditions in the city as “extremely worrying”, Amnesty International this morning revealed further, unimaginable details of life in Aleppo under the tyranny of Assad’s army thugs and Shabiha militia.
As with Human Rights Watch’s report last month, it lifts the lid a little more on the chilling torture of protesters perpetrated by the regime.
The report (pdf), “All out repression: Purging dissent in Aleppo, Syria”, finds the Syrian government responsible for “systematic violations amounting to crimes against humanity in Aleppo”, which it has “no intention of ending, let alone investigating”.
The international community, adds the report, has thus far “failed to bring any meaningful pressure to bear on the Syrian government to end them” – despite “ample evidence of the scale and gravity of the human rights and humanitarian law violations being committed” in Syria.
It calls on the UN Security Council to:
• Refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for investigation of crimes under international law;
• Ensure that an adequately resourced and strong international human rights monitoring mission with the capacity to monitor, investigate and publicly report on all human rights abuses is established, either by expanding and strengthening the UN observer mission (UNSMIS) before its mandate expires in August 2012 or by establishing another mechanism;
• Freeze the assets of President Bashar al-Assad and his close associates; and
• Immediately impose an arms embargo on Syria aimed at stopping all weapons, munitions, military, security and policing equipment from reaching government forces.
• Syrians are hopeful as the fall of Assad looks imminent 20 Jul 2012
The report, based on an Amnesty International research visit to Aleppo in May 2012, documents the increasingly widespread repression which prevailed in the city at the time, highlighting key patterns and dynamics which led to spiralling violence. It looks at protesters “in the line of fire”, how medics and the wounded are “hunted down”, and details the torture and “enforced disappearances” at the hands of Assad’s death squads.
Here are some of those horrendous accounts:
“They raised my big toenails, which in itself was very painful, but then they stuck electrical wires under the nails and gave me electric shocks. I though I was going to die.
“I spent 68 days in secret detention in the Air Force Intelligence and was tortured all the time. I was kept without trousers for 43 days. On one occasions I was prevented from going to the toilet for four days and another time I was kept for three days on my stomach on the floor without being allowed to move, eat, drink or go to the toilet.
“The beating with thick electric cables was part of the daily routine.”
- Student detained for 89 days between July and October 2011
“I was handcuffed at the back and blindfolded and was beaten with a silicon cable and plastic hose. After one day they said they were going to transfer me to Military Security in Idlib but first took me to Military Police [in Aleppo] and kept me there for 17 days. There I was tortured by having my legs raised and being beaten on the sole of the feet and the legs.
“One man died from the torture while I was there; his name is Ra’if al-Adel. Also there was a 71-year-old man from Ma’arat al-No’man who worked as a teacher in Saudi Arabia who was tortured and they did not give him his medicines for diabetes and he was in very bad shape.
“Then I was taken to Military Security in Idlib for about four weeks. The conditions were very bad. We were about 170 people in a room measuring about 7 by 5 metres. It was filthy and full of bugs and no space to lie down; I did not sleep at all for the whole time I was there. I thought I was going mad. I was regularly flogged with cables on my legs and I was punched in the head a lot.”
- Man detained from 26th March to 14th May 2012
“They beat me non-stop for seven days during which I was interrogated every day, some days more than once. I was subjected to the dulab [tyre] torture method and was beaten with cables, especially on my back, my legs and feet. After the seven days of beating they put me in an isolation cell, which was less than one metre by two, for 20 days. Then I was transferred to Damascus to the General Intelligence branch.
“There I was kept standing all day for many days; I was beginning to hallucinate; I thought I was going to die. I saw people being given electric shocks and having their head pushed into buckets of water until they almost drowned. They asked me about the demonstrations and wanted me to confess to being a terrorist and having weapons.
“I said yes to everything; in any case they make you sign and you cannot see what you sign, so I might as well confess to anything they want and avoid more torture.”
- Chemistry student detained for 45 days
“We were taken upstairs in groups to the lajna khumasya [a committee comprising the five security/intelligence agencies]. I was blindfolded, handcuffed behind my back, made to kneel on the floor and beaten for a long time on my back, legs and soles of my feet. The others were also beaten; I could not see but could hear the beating and them screaming next to me.
“They asked us how many soldiers we had killed and how many tanks we had burned and what weapons we have. I think those who asked us these questions were not really serious and knew that we had nothing to do with such things, which have been happening outside Aleppo in the rural areas.
“After some hours of this beating we were taken to the cells. We were put in a cell with no air and hardly any light and absolutely no space. I spent six days standing or crouching but could never lie down. Every evening we were taken to the corridor and were electrocuted and beaten there but without being questioned. For the electric shocks about 10 of us were tied together with a metal chain, which also served as a conduit for the electricity.
“When some of us fainted, which was very often, they threw water on us and then they shocked us again, which was even worse when we were wet. It was very, very painful.”
- Young man arrested in April 2012
“In Damascus I was held with a detainee who is originally from Hama but lived in Saudi Arabia. He was arrested from the airport as he arrived in Syria. He was kept standing without sleep for 50 days. Every time he nodded he was beaten. He was going insane, poor guy. And all this and his right ankle was broken or dislocated. I was eventually released after six weeks and three days.
“The third time I was arrested on 29 March at the funeral of Anas Zimo, a protester who was shot dead the previous day.”
- Nursing student arrested three times since August 2011
“I was participating in a demonstration in Halab al-Jadida (New Aleppo) district when a man in plain clothes grabbed me, put a pistol to my head and marched me to a car nearby and pushed me into the car. I thought I was being kidnapped but when I got into car I realised that the kidnappers were security men.
“There were three of them in the car and me and three others demonstrators; they were older than me, maybe 20 or 25 years old or so; I did not know them. One of them had a flag of the revolution.
“The security men insulted and beat us as the car drove along. The demonstrator who had the flag was beaten more. They blindfolded us in the car and took us to the Military Intelligence headquarters in Halab al-Jadida. I was kept there for two days during which I was beaten many times. The boy with the flag was beaten very, very badly. I denied participating in demonstrations and said that I was just passing when I was arrested.
“My family paid 300,000 liras to get me out and so I was not tortured; I was only beaten, and two days later I was taken to the criminal security, but there I was tortured with the dulab method and beaten. They undressed me, slipped a car tyre around by body which kept my arms immobilized, and beat me. After a short while I was taken to a judge and then to the central prison and then I was released.”
- 15-year-old boy, arrested on 29th February 2012
The report also notes some of the many “disappeared”:
Mohamed Bachir ’Arab, a medical doctor, went missing on 2 November 2011 with his friend Ahmed Omar Azoz. Both men had been in hiding as they were seemingly wanted by the Syrian security forces because of their involvement with the organisation of peaceful protests in Aleppo. Despite repeated requests from their families, the Syrian authorities never confirmed the arrests or provided any information as to their whereabouts or legal status.
Mohamed Bachir ’Arab is reported to have been tortured in detention. In early July, a released detainee stated that Mohamed Bachir Arab started a hunger strike on 1 July 2012 demanding he be released or brought before a judge, and that he was transferred to a hospital on 6 July 2012.
His family remained unable to obtain any information from the authorities. Three medical doctors who were arrested in Aleppo in 2011 were held in secret detention – effectively disappeared – until their release earlier this year. One was held for six month, one for eight months and one for a full year. During their detention their families were unable to find any information on their whereabouts and legal status, as the authorities denied holding them.
Lawyer Salam Othman has been missing since his arrest in Aleppo on 28 August 2011. He was arrested from his home and taken to Air Force Intelligence for three hours and then released and then rearrested later the same day. All efforts by his family and colleagues to find out where he is held have been in vain.
Another lawyer, ’Abd al-Salam al-Atrash, who was arrested in Aleppo in September 2011, disappeared until May 2012, when he was located in Saydnaya prison in Damascus. A law student, Mohannad Yahya Ghebash, has been missing since his arrest in Aleppo on 21 December 2011.
Ammar al-’Aabsi, a 28-year-old teacher, was arrested at the school where he taught in Aleppo in December 2011 and subsequently disappeared. In the first months his relatives heard from released detainees that he was held by the Air Force Intelligence in Aleppo and that he had been tortured repeatedly and could not walk. After about four months the family heard that he had been transferred to the Air Force Intelligence in Damascus. Since then, they have heard no more news.
His brother Dhia al-Din al-‘Aabsi, a 30-year-old father of three who owned a tailors’ workshop, was arrested in front of his home in Aleppo in February 2012 and remains disappeared. The family has received information from released detainees that he is being held by the Air Force Intelligence in Aleppo but has not been able to obtain any official information.
The two brothers had been previously arrested in May 2011 with two other brothers. The four had been held in secret detention, effectively forcibly disappeared, by Military Security in Aleppo and in Damascus for three months, after which they were released.
How many more reports will it take, how much more horror must be witnessed before the West acts?