Evidence of crimes against humanity being committed in Syria goes beyond photos and video footage of the aftermath of an airstrike or the chaos inside a hospital. President Bashar Assad’s regime also systematically detains and tortures people; at least 17,723 people have been killed in custody across Syria between 15 March 2011 and 31 December 2015, according to an Amnesty International report published Thursday.
“The first thing this torture does is take your dignity,” Syrian detention survivor Omar A., a master’s student from Aleppo, told Amnesty researchers. “It breaks the human. I don’t know why, but it does.”
Various wings of the Syrian regime run detention centers and prisons across the country, Amnesty reports. People are regularly arrested, interrogated and imprisoned.
Amnesty interviewed 65 torture survivors ― 54 men and 11 women ― between December 2015 and May 2016. Most of them are now in southern Turkey. A handful of others went to Lebanon, Europe and the U.S.
The London-based nonprofit tracked the estimated number of victims in partnership with the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, an independent nongovernmental organization that applies science to the analysis of human rights violations around the world.
The most common experience that former prisoners shared was torture, typically in the form of beatings while blindfolded. Many also recounted instances of sexual harassment and assault.
Torture began upon arrival at one of the facilities, which some referred to as the “welcome party.”
“During this ‘welcome party’ they registered us and took away our possessions and clothes,” recalled Samer, a lawyer who was arrested in 2012 for trying to deliver humanitarian supplies. “They made us strip naked and walk inside the building. They did not spare anyone. I saw an old man being beaten even worse than we were.”
Torture was continuous, used as a key component during interrogations, the report states. Methods included beatings on the soles of the feet, beatings while stuffed into a car tire, beatings while suspended by the wrists or beatings while strapped to a foldable wooden board. Electric shocks were frequent, too.
“Every interviewee said they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated during at least one of their interrogations, in most cases during almost every interrogation,” the report notes.
Most of these survivors told Amnesty they attempted to “confess” to see if it would help end their suffering. Guards would even make threats against prisoners’ relatives, including threats of rape, in order to extract a confession.
“They had me stand on the barrel, and they tied the rope around my wrists. Then they took away the barrel,” said Shiyar, a journalist. “There was nothing below my feet. They were dangling in the air. After they were done beating me with the wooden sticks, they took the cigarettes. They were putting them out all over my body. It felt like a knife excavating my body, cutting me apart.”
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SOURCE: The Huffington Post, Willa Frej