Syria: ‘How much blood must we pay before the world helps?’

In his shocking report from the border with Syria, Amnesty International’s Researcher Neil Sammonds reveals the extent of the torture experienced by those arrested in Syria.

In his hospital bed in al-Ramtha, a few kilometres from the border with Dera’a governorate in Syria, Abu Suhaib tells me how two days ago he and most of the men of al-Taibe had fled the town as the Syrian army were closing in.

An eloquent man in his mid-40s, Abu Suhaib said he and a small group were watching the scene unfold when an anti-aircraft missile fired in their direction sent grapefruit-sized shrapnel up through his leg and out his left thigh, taking his left thumb with it.

“My own flesh and blood splashed in my face,” he said.

Among several injured, he was sped away on a motorbike to an empty house where he received rudimentary first aid before being able to cross the border.

With a bit of effort I’d gained access to a refugee camp at al-Ramtha where I found clusters of mostly young men in a basement huddled around a couple of gas heaters.

Inhabitants of Dera’a city, Na’ime, al-Taibe, De’al, al-Jiza, Tasil and Kaheel spoke of how missiles, mortar and heavy machine-guns were fired at homes. The Syrian forces had gone house to house arresting and beating up any boys and men left behind.

With the regime’s noose on Dera’a tightening, dozens have been killed in the last week, their homes looted for money, jewellery, computers; generators vandalized.

Yet as Abu Suhaib said: “I’ve seen many beside me be shot and killed but I’m not afraid of dying. What I fear is being arrested.”

First-hand testimony of torture from the Syrians I met this week in al-Ramtha, Irbid and Amman helps explain why.

Being beaten badly for long periods again and again over days or weeks is commonplace.

The punches, kicks, stamping, and beatings with metal rifle butts, sticks or cables are so commonplace they are barely commented on, even though they sometimes produce life-threatening wounds.

Tareq Isma’il al-Hariri, aged 27, fled from al-Taibe to Jordan 10 days ago after the security forces came to arrest him for a third time.

During the first of his two detentions, lasting nearly five months, he had been kept with five others in a 1m by 1.7m cell.

For 18 consecutive days he was subjected to the dulab – his exposed feet were whipped 100 times; and to the shabeh, where his wrists were clamped together and he was raised above the ground, electrocuted and beaten – including by a truncheon on his genitals.

In his second detention he was subjected to the dulab on four occasions. He was placed with 24 other men in a 4m by 3m cell having already endured with others the intense and prolonged beating of the “welcoming party” and 24 hours of exposure to the elements, dressed in just his underpants.

He told me that one man in his cell had a broken glass bottle forced into his anus. Another, while hanging in the shabeh position, had his penis tied to a large bag of water which was then thrown violently around the room. An older man he shared a cell with had died due to the lack of medical care. “You see them dying in front of you, knowing there is nothing you can do.”

The determination of people like those I spoke with at al-Ramtha ensures that Syrians will continue to strive against brutal oppression. The lack of resolve from the international community guarantees that the oppression will continue and likely escalate yet further.

How much blood do the people have to pay before the world helps?

This blog was amended on 22 February to reflect new information received by Amnesty International.

Read more:Syria: Fears for activists arrested in Damascus raid (News story, 16 February 2012)
Syria: Death toll rises as bombardment of civilian areas escalates in Homs (News story, 15 February 2012)
UN General Assembly urged to condemn crackdown in Syria
 (Open letter, 15 February 2012)