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Raed Al Nakshbandi, Syria

Raed Al Nakshbandi has been a political refugee in France since the end of 2013. He spent ten years in the hell of Syrian prisons, on the confines of inhumanity. Freed in 1991, he recounts the torture, humiliation, and the negation of mankind and life itself. The horror he describes is however even more terrifying today.

“I was born in 1960 in Damascus. A mechanical engineer and activist of the Democratic Socialist Baath Party, I was arrested in April 1982 and taken to the Military Investigation Branch in Damascus.

During the first night of interrogation, I was beaten and tortured with the “German Chair” method. Strapped to a chair, it involved bending my spine backwards until its breaking point, in order to obtain information. The procedure was supervised by a doctor. I spent 45 days in an individual underground cell under drastic conditions and was subjected to other violent and humiliating interrogations. Then, I was placed for a month in a group cell with 12 other detainees. The interrogations, accompanied by ill treatment, continued. Later, I was transferred to a bigger cell, equipped with toilets, which was not the case before. The number of detainees ranged from 60 to 120.

We slept on the floor. The ventilation was artificial, we had trouble breathing, the food was insufficient, we were hungry, many fell ill, some died at our feet.

Visits were forbidden. Three months after my arrest, the interrogations ceased, as if my file was closed although no procedure had ever been initiated, no judgement pronounced, no charges ever laid. Forgotten. For a year. A year without leaving this cell. Then, in May 1983, I was taken to the Palmyra Military Prison where I remained for four years.

This prison is a former barracks dating back to the French Protectorate, and the place in which we were parked was a stable where the trough and chains to tie up the horses were always present.

The military police controlled the place, which never stopped expanding. The cell, which I shared with 65 other co-detainees, measured about 80 square metres. Here too, there were no beds, we slept right on the floor on a blanket that had an insulating side. As political prisoners, we did not get the same treatment as ordinary prisoners. Although we had access to the courtyard during daytime, we were however isolated from the prison’s internal life.

I received my first visit after two and a half years of incarceration, then once every three months. I still hadn’t received any information about my file, a state of emergency having been declared, the authorities didn’t have to justify their arrests. We languished … At the end of 1987, I was taken to the more modern Saïdnaya Military Prison, in a suburb of Damascus. We were ten in a cell equipped with a shower and toilets. Our basic comfort was better, we had small cotton mattresses to sleep on, and were allowed to go out into the courtyard for an hour every day and receive visits once a month.

I was finally freed on the 21st of December 1991, following the presidential pardon of political prisoners.”

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