End the horror in Syria's torture prisons

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© Cesare Davolio

Saydnaya Prison is where the Syrian state quietly slaughters its own people.

Every week, often twice per week, between 20 and 50 people are taken from their cells to be hanged, in the middle of the night. As many as 13,000 people have been killed in Saydnaya since 2011, in utmost secrecy. Many other people at Saydnaya have been killed after being repeatedly tortured and systematically deprived of food, water, medicine and medical care. The bodies of those who are killed at Saydnaya are taken away by the truckload and buried in mass graves. It is inconceivable that these large-scale and systematic practices have not been authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government.

“Abu Muhammed”, former guard at Saydnaya
Saydnaya is the end of life – the end of humanity.

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End the horror in Syria's prisons

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© Cesare Davolio
© Cesare Davolio

Mass Hangings

As many as 13,000 people have been hanged to death in Saydnaya between September 2011 and December 2015.

Before they are condemned to death, victims face what the Syrian authorities call a “trial” at the Military Field Court. In reality, this is a one or two-minute procedure in an office, in front of a military officer, where effectively the detainee’s name is logged into a death registry.

On the day of the execution, which prison guards refer to as “the party”, they collect those who will be executed from their cells in the afternoon. The authorities inform the detainees they will be transferred to one of the civilian prisons, which many believe have much better conditions. They are instead brought to a cell in the basement of the building, where they are severely beaten.

A former prison guard described how detainees are severely beaten throughout the night before being driven to an “execution room”:

Whoever comes can beat them, until the officer arrives. We already know they will die anyway, so we do whatever we want with them.
Former prison guard

The execution room at Saydnaya was expanded after June 2012, so that more people could be executed at once. Nooses line the wall. On entry to the room, the victims are blindfolded, and do not know that they are about to be killed. They are then asked to place their fingerprints on statements documenting their death. Finally they are taken, still blindfolded, to concrete platforms, and hanged. They do not know how or when the execution will be carried out until the nooses are placed around their necks. Detainees held in the building in the floors above the execution room reported that they sometimes heard the sounds of these hangings.

To this day, detainees are still being transferred to Saydnaya, and “trials” at the Military Field Court in al-Qaboun continue. There is therefore no reason to believe that executions have stopped.

© Amnesty International/Forensic Architecture

SEE INSIDE ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST TERRIFYING PRISONS

For the first time ever, you can explore a Syrian torture centre. Together with research agency Forensic Architecture, we spoke to survivors of one notorious prison and have used their memories to recreate the sounds, beatings and fear. Experience it for yourself, then sign the petition.

Explore now
The "tyre". © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun The "tyre". © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun
The "tyre". © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun
The "welcome party". © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun The "welcome party". © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun
The "welcome party". © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun

Unimaginable torture

Former prisoners speak of an endless cycle of beatings. On the journey after arrest. In transit between detention centres. As part of a “welcome party” of abuse on arrival at a prison. And in some cases every day for every conceivable minor ‘breaking’ of rules, including talking or not cleaning their cells.

Many of the people we spoke to said they had been beaten with plastic hose pipes, silicone bars and wooden sticks. Some had been scalded with hot water and burnt with cigarettes. Others were forced to stand in water and given electric shocks.

It was like a part of my soul died… After that, I had no joy, no laughter.
Student subjected to electrocution, Syria

Some of the techniques used are so commonplace they have their own nicknames. There’s the ‘flying carpet’, where people are strapped face-up on a foldable board, and one end is brought up to the other. Or the “tyre” (dulab), where people are forced into a vehicle tyre, with their foreheads pressed onto their knees or ankles, and beaten.

Both men and women have been raped and sexually harassed. Women have also been threatened with rape in front of their relatives in order to extract “confessions”.

IN NUMBERS - SYRIA SINCE MARCH 2011

5,000 - 13,000

people executed in Saydnaya prison between 2011 and 2015

75,000

people arrested by government security forces and now missing (according to Syrian Network for Human Rights)

11M+

people forced from their homes

© Amnesty International/Forensic Architecture
Former detainee describing overcrowding, Syria
When they brought me in, I didn’t see people – I saw worms, all wriggling and mixed together. I couldn’t stand on both feet, there was not enough space.
Prison beatings. © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun Prison beatings. © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun
Prison beatings. © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun
The "flying carpet". © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun The "flying carpet". © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun
The "flying carpet". © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun

Sub-human conditions

People suffer acute mental health problems due to overcrowding and lack of sunlight. In some cases, people told us there could be more than 50 people in a cell as small as 3m by 3m. They have little or no access to medical care and prisoners frequently die as a result of completely preventable medical problems.  

This absolute horror is designed to break the will and destroy the spirit of those detained. Survivors are psychologically traumatized and physically broken. They often require intensive medical and emotional support to rebuild their life.

I was very close to losing my mind.
University professor, late 50s, describing the impact of solitary confinement

In most cases, the Syrian government denies the security forces have even arrested these people. Or they refuse to give any information about their whereabouts. It means that many detainees are “disappeared” – outside the protection of the law – making them especially vulnerable to abuse. Download the full report, "Human Slaughterhouse: Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison" here.

 

All illustrations on this page are drawn by a survivor of prison life in Syria, who had first-hand experience of the torture and sub-human conditions.

End the horror in Syrian prisons

The murder, torture, enforced disappearances and extermination carried out at Saydnaya since 2011 have been perpetrated by the Syrian authorities as part of a systematic attack against the civilian population.

The violations at Saydnaya amount to crimes against humanity and must be investigated.

The Syrian government must let in independent monitors to investigate Syria’s brutal detention centres, now.

Send an email and tell Russia and the USA to use their global influence to ensure that independent monitors are allowed in to investigate conditions in Syria’s torture prisons.

* Please note that this is email will go directly to the US and Russian Governments. If you do not wish to disclose you identity, we advise that you use a pseudonym name and email address.