The testimony and documentation below were issued by the Violation Documentation Center in Syria which includes lawyers, doctors and Human Rights activists. I expect that the readers can take their word for it without the need for further verification, the magic word for casting doubt.
The testimony of an activist about
Branch 285 _The State Security Branch
Violation Documentation Center in Syria
Branch 285, a subsidiary of State Security Department, or as it is called, a General Intelligence Department which is, in turn, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Interior. The above-mentioned branch is located between Al Mujtahed Hospital – Damascus Hospital – and Kafarsouseh Square. It overlooks the street, “Abu Dardaa”, and located within a huge security compound alongside the administrative branch of General Intelligence Department. It also contains dozens of rooms and cells for detention.
VDC in Syria has interviewed an eye witness, a former detainee in this branch, where he spent several months in a row.He is a university student and an activist (Ahmed *) 29 years old who participated in peaceful demonstrations in Damascus, particularly in the Damascene neighborhood of Al Midan, since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution before he became a coordination activist in Damascus.
In May 2012, two of Ahmad’s friends, field activists, were arrested. They admitted; under sever torture, some of Ahmad’s activities. He received a call from his university – Faculty of Sciences – asking him to come for some questions about his registry. There, Ahmad was surprised by a security agent waiting for him. He was taken to the “Branch of the Party” within the campus of the Faculty of Law at the University of Damascus, beside the Student’s Union building in Baramkeh area in the center of Damascus. There he waited for a while until a security car came and took him to an underground detention.
“I’ve waited in the (Branch of the Party) for half an hour before a security car came. I, later, knew that it belongs to the Political Security Branch – so called Aljubbeh Branch- which is located in Maysat Square in Damascus. In the car, the four agents were armed to the teeth; they asked me to keep my head down and covered my head by flipping my sweater, then they started hitting me all over my body, particularly on the neck and chest.
When we got to the branch, they took me downstairs- to the cellar- where a dark-skinned, bald investigator, that spoke the accent of Deir ez-Zor’s, started listing the charges against me. After investigation, he filled a paper titled ‘statement’ with all the charges and asked me to sign it and so I did. After that, they handcuffed me to a bed in the room and I stayed like that for five days in a row. They brought me food three times a day; however, they deprived me from water for two days in a row. They also deprived of using the toilet for three successive days. On the fifth day, an officer saw me and inquired about me. One of the guards told him that I’ve been there for five days so he stood in front of me and kicked me twice on face and chest, and then he ordered them to take me to the lower cells.
They put me in a very small room (3*2 sq.) with eleven other detainees. In this room, so called ‘Jamaia’ or ‘Collective’, we could sleep each in a time successively. The room contains a small toilet just for drinking and urinating. As for the shower, we could have it once a week, every Thursday, for all detainees and it had to be done in one minute only, sometimes without any soap. The detainees were exposed to different degrees of torture. The ventilation was so bad that sunshine had no access to the cell, nor even was there any air changing.
We have reservations regarding the full name of the witness for security reasons *
I’ve stayed like that for a month and seven days when they called out my name with two other detainees and took us to The Judicial Palace in Damascus. There, they didn’t present us to any Judge; instead, they handed us over to some other security branch agents. I knew later that it was Branch 285/ State Security, which is a subsidiary of General Intelligence Department in Kafarsouseh, Damascus.
In the Branch 285-State Security…….
In our way to the branch they covered our heads, again, by our clothes. They put me, along with two other detainees, in the boot of a white, long car (Station), the one that the Syrian security uses normally. When we arrived, a security guard ‘received’ us with an inspection.
They asked us to take of all our clothes except for the underwear. That’s when some security officer, whose name I remember vividly; he was called “Somar Alkasir , Abo Alabbas” who spoke the coastal dialect, started kicking us and hitting us brutally using whips and bats along with a barrage of insults. They took me, then, to the ‘collective room’ or as the guards call it ‘Almuzdawajeh’ (the double room) which contains a big number of detainees, and which is located in the northern section of the building. The size of the room was (3*4 Sq.) and we were more than 50 detainees inside it wearing only the underwear. I spent my detention period, which lasted for five months, wearing only my underwear.
The fact that there was no toilet in the room was one of the worst things I’ve experienced. We were allowed to go to toilet three times a day, and we were exposed to whipping all the way to the toilet especially on the back area. Moreover, The detainees were asked to ‘finish’ in seconds and any detainee exceeded the given time was being punished and brutally hit, and sometimes taken to the cellar to be hit on the feet (Falaqeh).
Due to the lack of space, sitting was extremely difficult. Most of the detainees suffered from severe problems in the knee area. No talking was allowed; we were whispering to each other because If the guards heard the voice of any detainee, he would be punished savagely. One of the torturing methods is to ask the detainees to bring their hands out of the door’s openings and hit their fingers fiercely until they are swollen and became blue. This act was done, mostly, by the same ‘Somar Abu Alabbas’. In addition to asking the detainees to kneel on their knees for long hours in order to make them suffer both physically and psychologically; all the detainees suffered from swellings on the knees which were already affected due to the lack of space inside the detention rooms.
One of the “funny things” there is that they were asking the detainees, while going to toilet, to walk on their knees and imitate sounds like the sound of a car or other vehicles, in addition to asking them to use the toilet in pairs and then preventing them from washing their hands.
One day, while going to the bath, one of the guards called (Somer Al taweel, Abu Abbas) who stopped me, asked me to open my hand and hit me, causing a serious cuts on it to the degree that I couldn’t sleep for two nights out of pain. I tried to get some medicine but in vain; the only available medicine was Anti-diarrhea and some Antibiotics and that were used only for the extreme cases like chronic ulcerations or carbuncles that occur as a result of the bad conditions in the cells, in addition to skin mange with which most of the detainees were infected and which spread all over their bodies, especially in the butt and the lower area of the back. I had been infected, as well, for 4 months of my detention which lasted for 5 months in the State Security Branch.
– Different ways of beating and torturing:
1 – There were many ways of beating and torturing in Branch 285, especially – the physical – torture. The degree of torture differed according to, firstly, the charges and, secondly, the officer who is responsible for the torture. Anyhow, the torture was systematic, especially during punishment or interrogation sessions. Those torturing methods include:
Pulling off nails, especially fingernails.-
-Beating and punching directly on the face; especially on the eyes.
Quenching cigarettes on the detainee’s body, especially on the back and hands.-
-Whipping all over the body, especially on the back.
-Depriving the already tortured detainees of medicine which is already rare, so that they wouldn’t be able to cure bruises and injuries caused by torture.
-Beating detainees while going to the toilet, which forced some detainees to stop eating at all, or eat some food only, so that they wouldn’t have to go to toilet.
Pouring hot water on detainee’s body, mostly on the back and shoulders.-
-Using ‘Bisat Alreeh’ (wind carpet) by forcing the detainee to lie down on two wooden boards and then tie him to these boards and bend his body brutally by raising his feet to the head while beating the feet (Falaqah)
2 – Physical Violations/Sexual Abuses:
The detention, itself, is the biggest torture for the detainees on the psychological level, especially when they’re exposed to a barrage of insults for no apparent reason. However, there were some unprecedented methods to abuse the detainees which affected them greatly on the psychological level. One time, around ten new detainees, one of them was from Der Al Asafir in Damascus Suburbs, were brought to a corridor where the interrogator asked them to stand up, as they remained standing for a full week. The officer ‘Somar AlQasir’ the old guy, a different person from the young Somer, brought a huge cucumber and tried to abuse the detainees by inserting it in their butts to the degree that one of them, the detainee from Der Al Asafir, couldn’t sit on his butt for a while after they brought them back to our cell.
3 – Collective punishments:
This kind of punishment includes all the detainees in the room. One time, a child who was detained in our room stole a tomato and when the guards knew, one of them entered the room and asked the child to grovel, Then, he started beating him brutally with his hands and feet all over his body saying in a slang dialect ‘that who steals a tomato, steals a country’.
When finished, he informed the officer in charge about the incident. The officer ordered to tie our hands with some kind of plastic bonds which caused injuries immediately when moving the hands. We were 53 detainees and they asked us to stand against the wall and left us in such position for 36 hours except for some pauses while eating or going to the bathroom. The feet of the detainees, including me, started to swell and bleed out of ulcerations.
Collective Punishment, then, continued by asking us to kneel down to our knees for six daily hours, and the beating in the way to the bathroom increased especially on the knees.
In the Western Prison:
After spending about four month within the State Security Branch in addition to a whole month within the confines of the Political Security Branch, I was transferred, with some thirty detainees, to the ‘Western Jail’. Upon arrival, as usual, several agents bet us savagely all over our bodies using batons and sticks; they also, slapped us across our faces. All that was accompanied with swear words and insults.
I was, repeatedly, forced to put some agent’s shoe inside my mouth just because he didn’t like that I’ve got blue eyes. Afterwards, we were disrupted into detention centers where I and three other detainees were forced to join 70 or 80 other detainees in a relatively big room, around (5*6 sq.). The strange thing was that all of us were forced to gather in one corner; we used a (3*4)
space only. There were a toilet and a bath; however, we were not allowed to use them together. During my thirty days there, I only had the chance to shower once.
Food, the same as that provided to prisoners in the northern section of the branch, was so bad; it was a loaf or a half loaf of bread at breakfast, grit or hard rice at lunch, in addition to boiled potatoes and there was hardly any kind of vegetables like tomatoes.
Most of the detainees were suffering chronic diseases, particularly the cutaneous ones. Only few numbers of patients, four at most, with serious and critical cases were allowed to see the doctor at a time, otherwise, they would be punished.
Once, a detainee was beaten brutally just because he wanted to see the doctor so badly due to an acute diarrhea, which the guards haven’t even considered as disease that requires treatment.
Mange was the most prevailing disease among detainees, in addition to chronic ulcerations especially ‘carbuncles’ on the legs and butts. This disease prevailed profusely all over my body as I had 40 infected areas. During my last days there, a strange disease started to prevail among detainees, it was ‘involuntary diarrhea’ while sitting in the room. Such cases were never cured, and if this happened to any of the detainees, he will be beaten brutally as they accused him of doing it deliberately to be allowed to shower.
Abu Firas, a tall, bulky- bodied guard, who spoke Bedouin dialect, enjoyed torturing and beating the detainees. Occasionally, he asked the ‘Head of the Dormitory’ to pick one of the detainees to beat him. The detainees were asked to put their hands out of the openings of the door to hit them. In one occasion, a detainee, whose second name is ‘Sharea ‘ from the city of Daraa, pulled out his hand out of pain, consequently, Abu Firas entered the room holding two
wooden sticks and started hitting him on the head and the face and didn’t stop until his face was covered with blood. One of torturing methods was to take out the detainees, almost naked except from their underwear, and pour cold water on them and expose them to “air conditioner” for several days. One detainee remained in such case for four days in a row.
Children who were under eighteen had a” special” treatment; one day, one of the guards called out for all detainees under eighteen, so three children came out. He, also, asked one other detainee, who was a teacher, to join them. Afterwards, he asked them to grovel and started beating them with a stick for one continuous hour.
It had been less than a month since I came to this dormitory when they called out my name with some other detainees, and took us to the ‘Military Court’ in Damascus, where we stayed for several hours before we were transferred to ‘Military Police General Headquarter” in Damascus, Al Qaboun where I noticed that detention rooms were filled with thousands of detainees as I estimated them. One night later, I was transferred to the ‘Central Jail of Adra’ where I stayed for a month before I was transferred one more time, with some other detainees, to ‘Criminal Security Branch’ in Damascus, Bab Mussala where we were released without any trail. Later on, I knew that my name was included in an exchange deal between the Free Syria Army and the Syrian Government.
The Interviewer: Amir Kazkaz
A satellite image showing the geographical location of the “Political Security Branch”- Al Maysat Branch- or as it is called ‘Aljubbeh Branch’, next to ‘Omayya Hospital
لأية ملاحظات أو أسئلة يمكن التواصل معنا عبر بريدنا الالكتروني
للاطلاع على تقاريرنا السابقة باللغة العربية
للاطلاع على تقاريرنا السابقة باللغة الإنكليزية
Testimony in Arabic: