Syria’s torture survivors speak out

‘I wanted to die’: Syria’s torture survivors speak out [PDF] is a newly-released Amnesty International report in which former detainees describe their treatment in Syria’s detention centers since the predominantly peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s government began in March 2011.

Fairly usual over many years and continuing to be so is the torture method known as the dulab (tyre), whereby the victim is forced into a vehicle tyre which is often then hoisted up and the individual is beaten on the feet – a method of abuse itself often referred to as falaqa – or elsewhere on the body with fists, sticks, whips or cables.

More common now than in recent years is shabeh, whereby the victim is hung in one of a number of ways, for example from a raised hook or handle or door frame, or by manacled wrists, so that the feet just hang above the ground or so the tips of toes touch the floor. The individual is then often beaten with various instruments. Other forms of suspension, such as crucifixion, were also reported.

There have been more frequent reports of some torture and ill-treatment methods that were previously rare, including electric shock. Survivors interviewed by Amnesty International in Jordan described three forms of electrocution: after water is sprayed onto detainees and the floor, an electric charge is applied to the floor and the current rushes through to those covered in water; via electric prods; and in one case in a metal “electric chair”. Such methods often cause the victim to collapse and pass out.

A method also reported was bisat al-rih (flying carpet), whereby the victim is strapped faceup onto a foldable wooden board, the two ends of which can be moved towards each other bringing the head towards the feet and causing significant pain to the lower back, during the process of which the victim is beaten. Another method described was being slashed, including with the fixed bayonet on a Kalashnikov-type rifle. Also more frequent than in recent years are cigarette burns.

Rape and other torture and ill-treatment of a sexual nature have been reported more frequently than for many years. Several of those interviewed in Jordan said it was quite common to be hit in the genital region with truncheons, including while hanging in the shabeh position. In one case, a former detainee told Amnesty International that he was forced to watch as a male detainee was raped in front of him. One released detainee said that he shared a cell with a young man who had been forced to have a glass bottle with a broken top inserted into his anus. One said that his cellmate had been raped with a metal skewer. Others spoke of a detainee with whom they had shared a cell who, while hanging in the shabeh position, had a cord attached to a large bag of water tied around his penis.

Amnesty International also heard accounts of methods of torture and other ill-treatment not heard of for many years. One man showed lesions on his leg and ankle that he said were caused by a pincer. Another said he was kept for a night in a cell with what seemed to be a corpse.

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