The Kingdom of Silence: Literature from Tadmor prison

Linah Alsaafin reports: “When death is a daily occurrence, lurking in torture, random beatings, eye-gouging, broken limbs and crushed fingers… [When] death stares you in the face and is only avoided by sheer chance…wouldn’t you welcome the merciful release of a bullet?”

This was taken from a report smuggled out in 1999 to Amnesty International by a group of former Syrian prisoners who had spent years in the infamous Tadmor (Arabic for Palmyra) prison, where unimaginable acts of torture took place against both dissidents and criminals alike.

Tadmor prison fell to the Islamic State group as it captured the city of Palmyra from government forces earlier this week, but the significance of its seizure has been overshadowed by widespread fears that IS could raze the UNESCO World Heritage site just south of the modern town. In fact the capture of the prison could be a much more important development, according to analysts and former inmates of the jail.

The prison, which used to be a French military barracks, is located in the desert in eastern province of Homs and is around 200 kilometres away from the capital Damascus. As previously reported by Middle East Eye, the massacre of hundreds of prisoners in 1980 after a foiled assassination attempt on then president Hafez al-Assad exacerbated the prison’s symbolic status of repression.

Human rights reports were not the only medium to document what took place in what has been described as one of the worst prisons in the world.

The vicious reality of Tadmor, where the blood of those massacred in 1980 was not cleaned up resulting in the mass spread of gangrene amongst the rest of the inmates, created literary works written by survivors and former inmates that narrated their daily lives in stark detail. Whips were given human names, friendships were struck between prisoners and rats and cockroaches, and torture sessions were opportunities to experiment with excruciating devices.
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