Syria: woman recalls regime torture, condition of women in prisons

Thousands of women across Syria have been subjected to torture under the custody of the Syrian regime, while about 128,000 civilians remain in detention.

I want people who hear my voice to help those women who remain in prisons. They need a helping hand, just as the ones who survive prison,” says Nur Hammad, one of thousands of female victims who were tortured and abused in Syrian regime prisons.

As a former inmate of Syrian prisons run by the Bashar Assad regime, Hammad recounted the torture and abuse she faced during her incarceration as her scars keep horrific memories alive. In an interview with Anadolu Agency (AA), Nur Hammad, which is a pseudonym to protect her identity, spoke for the first time about the cruelty she was forced to endure during her nine-month imprisonment in several detention centers.

Almost 14,000 people have died in Syrian regime prisons since March 2011, when the civil war first erupted, while about 128,000 others still remain in detention, the U.K.-based Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) said in a report released in March.

According to the report, some 127,916 people are currently in detention or have been forcibly disappeared, over the same period. The 30-year-old was arrested by the Bashar Assad regime soldiers in May 2018.

Before her arrest by regime henchmen, Hammad worked as a pharmacist in the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus, which was under an intense siege by forces loyal to Assad. She left the region to move to Idlib, though she was later forced to return after her mother called her back as her younger sibling died. “I prepared my stuff and left to go to my mother [to Eastern Ghouta]. After passing Free Syrian Army [FSA] checkpoints I reached the Assad regime checkpoints where they were conducting identity checks,” she said. She was called out of the car, only to find out her name was on the wanted list of the Syrian regime. Hammad said she was brought to the Aleppo political security center after being searched and handcuffed. She was searched by men, who touched her and disrespected her religious and traditional values. “Later, a woman who was around 50 years old came and took me in a separate room where she removed all my clothes and searched me as well,” she said.

From there, Hammad was brought to the Aleppo military intelligence center, with her hands bound behind her back. “During the entire journey they (regime soldiers) cursed and insulted me; this was the first time I was slapped for sitting upright,” she said.

At the intelligence center, she was put into a one-square-meter cell where she spent two days before her first interrogation began. “I couldn’t even lie down as every two hours the soldiers would come in, pour water on me and insult me before leaving, I could also hear little children crying, and sounds of men suffering,” she said. On her second day in the cell, regime soldiers took her out for her first interrogation. “They covered my eyes and tied my hands behind my back, and when I asked why I was treated like this they tightened the plastic handcuffs more and started to interrogate me,” she said.

Despite repeatedly telling them that she was innocent, this treatment continued. Hammad said she was accused of supporting the FSA with medical supplies and of supporting and standing with those rising up against the state. “I told them that the pharmacy was open for every patient and person in need; I didn’t know if anyone was from the opposition or the Assad regime,” she said.

Soldiers threaten women with torture

She said that the soldiers looked through her pictures on the phone, insulting and threatening her with rape. “They told me to decide: ’either you admit (to the accusations) or you will die,’” she said. Inside her cell, Hammad said she lost any sense of time passing over 32 days under unbearable and unhygienic conditions. Hammad was unsure how long this continued.

I felt like fainting, I couldn’t bear this pain anymore, I no longer had any strength to speak,” she said. Unable to stand the intensified torture, she accepted all charges against her. After seven months of incarceration in Adra Prison, Hammad was released and made her way straight to her family and friends who were living in Damascus.

Hammad called for help for those women who continue to languish in prisons and those who were released, as she said they are “forgotten.” According to the Conscience Movement, more than 13,500 women have been jailed since the Syrian conflict began, while more than 7,000 women remain in detention where they are subjected to torture, rape and sexual violence. The movement is an alliance of individuals, rights groups and organizations aiming to secure urgent action for the release of women and children in the prisons of the Syrian regime.

The Syrian Human Rights Network (SNHR) announced yesterday that over 14,000 civilians have died of torture since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011. “Some 14,227 individuals (including 177 children, 62 women) have died due to torture at the hands of main parties to the conflict in Syria from March 2011 to June 2019,” according to the SNHR report, which marks the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, falling on June 26.Torture by the Bashar Assad regime forces made up 14,070 of this number, including 173 children and 45 women.

The report stressed that the figures consisted of only those that can be identified, and that the real death toll is much higher.

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