The policy of arresting people was one of the oppressive policies used by the ruling dictatorial regime in Syria. The Baathist regime adopted detaining people as a methodology to reach power. The dictator Hafez al-Assad continued to use detention after taking over power in Syria, where Assad had arrested his partners on November 15, 1970 coup, and arrested all the voices that opposed his policies that targeted political and civil life in Syria. Detention cases in the eighties of last century recorded the highest number of arrests of the time. Palmyra (Tadmor) prison and military security basements for torture and other intelligence branches were full of blood as a result of this repressive policy. Assad regime did not stop following this policy even when its façade changed in summer 2000; when Assad the son inherited the rule of Syria to be a country with the highest record of repression after the start of pro-democracy revolution. The regime deliberately used this policy to crack down the civil revolution and rebuild the walls of fear that were destroyed with every cry of “freedom”. What Assad the son had to do was merely changing his crime scene from Tadmor prison to Sednaya prison; and replacing the Court of Terrorism with the State Security Court leaving Exceptional Courts and the Military Field Courts to serve as a tool of the crime against hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
Who are the Detainees in Syria?
Political detainees before the Syrian revolution:
In March 2011, there were about one thousand and three hundred detainees in Sednaya prison from different political currents, who were active before revolution in addition to hundreds of detainees within security branches. A large number of these detainees were sentenced by the Military Field Court or the State Security Court. The sentences for some prisoners ranged from five years to life while a number of detainees sent to trial in front of the State Security Court. A group of political detainees has been released, but some were kept in central prisons and security branches.
The pre-revolution detainees are divided into three groups
- Group I: Detainees who were sentenced by the State Security Court or the Military Field Court with unjust sentences. Some of them were detained for more than 30 years (detained since 1981). Many of whom spent more than 20 years in prison.
- Group II: Detainees who had been referred to the State Security Court, the court that was abolished before they were sentenced, so they were referred to the Military Court and then to Court of Terrorism after it was established. Those have not been tried yet despite the fact that they have been detained for more than five years.
- Group III: Detainees who are still in the security branches and who have been detained for more than five years and have not been referred to the judiciary yet.
The number of the 3 groups of detainees now exceeds 600 detainees, many of them are elites who were engaged in political action and faced the regime before the revolution.
- Detainees and the enforced disappeared during the revolution:
Detainees during the revolution can be classified as following:
There are civilian and military detainees and according to the judicial situation, they can be categorized as following:
1) Detainees in the security branches, secret prisons and prisons of pro-regime forces; they are considered as enforced disappeared ones:
The number of these centers is very large, some are secret and some are new and do not look like a prison (The regime turns any facility into a prison or detention center). They are in all governorates and areas controlled by the regime. They are divided according to their affiliation to:
- Governmental detention centers: which in turn are divided according to their affiliation:
- Detention centers of Air Intelligence branch.
- Detention centers of Military Security branch.
- Detention centers of State Security branch.
- Detention centers of Political Security branch.
- Syrian army detention centers.
- Local pro-regime militia detention centers: They have centers for temporary detention in the areas they control; these centers are also used for kidnappings.
- Foreign pro- regime militia detention centers: Secret centers that are completely run by foreign militias such as the Lebanese Hezbollah.
They are very poor and lack the most basic necessities of human life that make these centers a deadly place in which violations tantamount to genocide. Detention centers generally lack ventilation, some detainees suffocate to death when ventilation devices are stopped, and lack sun light; some don’t have even electric light. The regime uses hunger and thirst as weapons against detainees so many detainees suffer from malnutrition and some of them die slowly out of hunger. Some detainees become fragile skeletons, susceptible to diseases and may die out of a minor disease such as diarrhea. Moreover, some detention centers are overcrowded to the degree that some people die slowly because they can’t find a place to sit or sleep. In most of detention centers there is lack of facilities, lack of hygiene and tools, lack of health care and complete absence of any form of medication (medicines for chronic diseases, antibiotics, etc.) except in rare cases. Due to the fact that they don’t isolate sick detainees with contagious diseases like tuberculosis, the disease spreads putting lives of many detainees on the stake. In special cases, sick detainees are sent to military hospitals where they are abused to the extent that they get killed.
In terms of treatment, the detainees in these centers are subject to physical and psychological torture. They are brutally beaten, hanged and tortured with electricity and various torture instruments such as flying carpet (The detainee is tied to a piece of wood that is either square or of a shape of the human body; they look as if they were flying. The “carpet” can be folded so that the detainee’s head touches their feet), the wheel (The detainee’s hands and feet are tied to the wheel either on the abdomen or back and then tortured, or by placing the detainee inside the wheel so that their hands touch their feet and get beaten), etc. Detainees are tortured systematically and brutally till they die or they have permanent injuries.
In these centers, detainees are continually insulted, humiliated and sexually abused (whether by torturers or by forcing some detainees to sexually abuse others). Verbal abuse like cursing, offending and using sexual words to insult detainees and their beloved ones all the time affect the psychological situation of the detainee. Actually, many detainees lost their minds “disconnected” (disconnection situation where a detainee is believed to lose their conscious ability to control their mind and bodies so that they approach insanity) in these centers because of all the physical and psychological abuses.
2) Detainees Referred to the Court of Terrorism:
- Detained (Ida’a) by the Court of Terrorism: They are the detainees who have not been brought before the investigating judges in the Court of Terrorism.
- Suspended by the Court of Terrorism: They are the detainees whom an investigating judge decides to arrest.
- Suspended by the Criminal Court of Terrorism: They are those who are brought before a Criminal Court of Terrorism.
- Convicted: They are the detainees who have been sentenced by the Criminal Court of Terrorism.
In general, civilian detainees of the Court of Terrorism are detained in central prisons:
- Adra Central Prison.
- Swaida Central Prison
- Homs Central Prison
- Hama Central Prison
- Tartous Central Prison
- Lattakia Central Prison
- Aleppo Central prison
The military detainees are detained in Sednaya Military Prison. We can say that civilian detainees during Ida’a are often kept only in Adra Central Prison. That was the case till the beginning of 2017 where they sent some detainees for Ida’a in some other detention centers, prisons attached to the military police barracks and the White Building in Sednaya prison, where civilian and military detainees were kept for the Court of Terrorism, due to high number of detainees.
Although detention conditions in civilian prisons are slightly better than the conditions in the security detention centers in some aspects, they still lack many humanitarian conditions, especially in terms of health care. There are no medical staff in most prisons, for example, in Adra prison there is one officer in male department as the head of medical department there; and there are no specialized doctors in female department. The situation is similar in Tartous prison and Homs prison.
Financial burden on detainees and their families is another hard topic. Their families are not even allowed to visit them.
The main factor that makes the suffering of the detainees and their families worse could be arbitrary arrest orders issued by the judges of the Court of Terrorism, and the arbitrary sentences imposed by the Criminal Court of Terrorism whose sentences can be in many cases death penalty. This depends, on the first hand, on the mood of the prosecution and their way in charging detainees arbitrarily and deceivingly. On the second hands, this depends on the mood of the judges in the court who make advocates role useless and hearing sessions a waste of time.
Recently Court of Terrorism deprived its detainees from reducing the duration of the sentence “quarter of the sentence”.
This court is practicing terrorism against detainees and their families contrary to the fact that it should be anti-terrorism court. This court horrifies anyone who opposes the regime by issuing judgement in absentia and confiscating their properties.
3) Detainees Referred to the Field Court:
Large number of these detainees is in Sednaya Military Prison, in military police prisons, and some of them are in security branches.
They can be categorized as following:
- Detained (Ida’a) by the Field Court: They are the detainees whom the investigators in the security branches have decided to transfer to the Field Court and they didn’t stand in front of the judge yet. (They are kept either in security branches or in Sednaya Military Prison, Military Police Prisons).
- Suspended by the Field Court: They are the detainees whom the President of the Field Court ordered to detain them while their sentences are getting signed by the Syrian Minister of Defense and the President of the Syrian Republic (in case of death sentence).
- Convicted by the Field Court: The largest number of detainees of the Field Court are kept at Sednaya Military Prison. Some of the detainees are sent to central civilian prisons such as Adra Central Prison, Swaida Central Prison or other central prisons, or military police prisons such as the military prison in Homs commonly known as the Polish “Poloni” prison.
The conditions of detention in Sednaya prison are the worst, maybe the conditions in Military Police detention centers can be compared to them.
Because of fear and the horrific situation in Sednaya prisons, detainees wish to be taken back to the hell of security branches; and because of fear and horrific situation in military police prisons (mainly Military Police in Damascus, Qaboun and Poloni Prison in Homs), detainees wish to be sent back to Sednaya Prison.
The detainees are received in Sednaya Military Prison with bloody beating depriving them from their humanity. Those who survive this are put in groups, stripped of clothes, deprived from water and food and kept for a while in the toilet attached to one of the cells of Sednaya Prison. Those who survive this are sent to dormitories. There detainees wait for death that might come in the form of illness, cold, hunger, thirst, torturer brutal beats or execution as a sentence of a Field Court. Actually, every death reason needs a whole report to explain it because it is part of the regime’s systematic policy of exterminating detainees.
As for the situation in the Military Police Prisons, according to testimonies, it’s the worst ever. The regime uses these prisons as a temporary station where detainees are kept before sending them to prisons from detention centers and vice versa, taking them to courts or sending sick detainees from prisons to military hospitals. These prisons lack basic human survival needs.
In the Military Police Prisons, many detainees die under torture or because of “disconnection”. These prisons ae overcrowded so many detainees are confined in a small place to the degree that they spend many days standing without sleeping till they almost lose their minds “disconnection”. Military police officers abuse detainees, especially those who are detained by the Field Court.