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December 9, 2011

My testimony to the Committee Against Torture in Geneva about torture in Sednaya Prison

I was beaten while being questioned by State Security Intelligence, Branch No. 285 (based in Damascus). The interrogator slapped and punched me several times, and I was forced to stand, blindfolded with my hands cuffed behind my back, for the entire three-hour interrogation.  The interrogator more than once threatened to use the “tire” on me and whip me. When I refused to answer some questions, I was made to kneel down on my knees.

Prisoners arrive at the Sednaya Prison cuffed and blindfolded, having no idea where the security truck is taking them as they leave the detention centre. Prisoners are usually transferred in groups. After I reached the prison, I was thrown in a solitary cell; it was smaller than I was and I could not stretch out. The cell was two floors underground, dark with no light, measuring about 160 by 180 cm. It contained a detached toilet about halfway up the wall. The cell smelled awful and filth was everywhere.

The next day, food was distributed. Through holes in the door, I saw rations in front of each cell for four people. It later turned out that the two solitary cells facing mine and next to me held four individuals—four people packed into the same space that was confining for me alone.

In the evening, I heard the First Aide to the Director of the Shift Guard tell the guards not to touch me, since I was connected to the press and appear on television. He told them that the prison director explicitly stated that “we don’t want problems with this prisoner.”

Groups of prisoners began arriving in the next few days. I spent 55 days in that cell during which two groups of prisoners arrived, each one numbering seven to ten people. Three prisoners arrived individually.

The guards began screaming, “They’ve brought them, they’ve brought them! May God send good fortune, bring the tire.” Prisoners arrived to the hall, lined on both sides by solitary cells like mine. More than ten guards arrived with a major from the Military Police, which runs the Sednaya Prison. The guards began beating the prisoners using rubber car tires. The prisoner would lie on his back and bend his legs, after which the tire would be put around his legs. Then the prisoner would be turned face down and a guard would stand on his back to prevent him from moving. Other guards would then whip the soles of his feet, and the screams would grow louder. The whipping was done with a very thick piece of rubber, probably an engine belt from a large machine.

The guards beat the prisoners—at the very least, each prisoner got more than 50 lashes. During the whipping, a guard would stand on the prisoner’s back to prevent him from moving and the major would make fun of the prisoners as they were being tortured. This is a verbatim dialogue of the conversation between the major and a prisoner undergoing torture:

Major: What do you do?

Prisoner: I’m a farmer.

Major: So you know what a tractor sounds like.

Prisoner: Yes sir, I know.

Major: So let’s see. Make me the sound of a tractor or else the beating won’t stop.

Prisoner: I swear, I don’t know how, sir.

Major: You don’t know, or you forgot?

Prisoner: I forgot, I forgot the sound.

Major to the guards: So remind him (an order to whip him).

The guards gave him more than 20 lashes and the prisoner screamed.

The major stopped the guards and asked the prisoner: So, have you remembered?

Prisoner: Yes, yes, I’ve remembered.

Major: So do it, make the sound of a tractor.

The prisoner began making a tractor-like sound while the major and guards laughed for five minutes.

The major ordered the prisoner to be quiet: So, you remembered quite well. Now c’mon, make him forget

the sound again.

He ordered a new round of beating and the guards gave him more than 20 lashes.

At this point, another prisoner had nearly passed out from his own screaming. The major stopped the

guards and threw water on the prisoner’s face.

Major: Are you okay?

Prisoner: If you want to whip me, whip me, but don’t let anyone stand on my back. I swear, I can’t


Instead of stopping the torture, the major followed his wishes and he was whipped without having a guard stand on his back to restrain him. This torture session lasted more than two and a half hours, after which the prisoners were stuffed four in a cell, as small as mine.

The second group of prisoners was larger. This time a different officer, a captain, came, but the captain also kept his sense of humor while torturing the prisoners.

During the whippings, he would ask the guards to stop and then order the prisoner restrained by the car tire to sing. He would say, “Sing this song by so-and-so,” and then later the singing would be used to justify more torture. The captain would scream, “Shut up! Shut up! Your voice is disgusting. Give me a scream instead of a song,” and then he would gesture at the guards to resume the whipping.

Later the captain would order the prisoner to bark, howl, or make other animal sounds. After one prisoner began howling like a dog at the captain’s order, the captain shouted at the guards, “I told you he’s a dog. Go ahead and beat him.” The guards then began beating him again.

This torture session lasted more than three hours, after which the prisoners were placed in solitary cells like mine.

Three prisoners arrived individually, not part of groups. The three were severely beaten. Apparently, if a prisoner arrives by himself, it gives the guards more time to be creative with the beating.

One prisoner, Khidr Abdullah Ramadan, reached the Sednaya Prison on about April 18, 2006, after being held for 70 days at a military detention branch run by Military Intelligence.

The prisoner was placed in the “tire” and four guards began whipping him. They competed to see who could cause him the most pain, who could make him scream more. I started to count the lashes until I reached 58 and then stopped when I realized that the session would be a long one. During the whipping, the guards began getting inventing new methods, like jumping up in the air and then bring the whip down on the prisoner’s feet. After whipping for more than 30 minutes, by four guards together, they couldn’t find any empty space in any cell. They sent for the first aide and he came. They told him there was no other place but with the journalist, meaning me. The aide vehemently refused and insisted on stuffing the prisoner into any other cell. At that point, one of the guards said, “We’ve got 131 prisoners in 31 solitary [cells], where should we go with him, sir?”

The aide opened the door of my cell, came up to me, and said, “Look, we didn’t treat you like the rest. We’re treating you much better. You know that. This prisoner’s going to share your cell. Talk is prohibited. If anything happens, it’s him we’ll beat. We’ll torture him very badly, and it’ll be on your conscience.”

The young man, his head completely shaved, was brought into my cell, which was too small for just me alone. The guards forced him to jog for a half hour so the blood wouldn’t clot on his feet. They kept saying, “Trot, you animal.”I carried the young man to the toilet for three days after that since he could not stand on his feet.

Abdullah, my cellmate, told me terrifying stories about the torture he had seen at the military interrogation center in Damascus. He had spent 70 days there in a group cell. He said that he wasn’t beaten at all at the branch, but that every day a prisoner would be taken in for interrogation and would be brought back bleeding on a blanket. The thing he most remembered was one prisoner who was severely injured by the torture. After he was carried on the military blanket and thrown down by the soldiers, he didn’t stop bleeding. The prisoners started screaming that he would die. The soldiers came back with some gauze and disinfectant and threw them through the small slot in the door of the cell and told the prisoners to clean up his wounds.

Often the soldiers, the prison guards at the Sednaya Prison, would force the prisoners to make sport. A guard would open the small slot in the cell door and order the prisoners to lie down, stand up, jog, or jump, knowing that the cell wasn’t big enough for even one prisoner to do this.

In some cases, the prisoners would bang on the cell door. When the guard would ask who it was, the prisoner had to answer with his cell number; the use of names was prohibited. Most often, the prisoners asked for water. The water in the cells had been cut off and was turned on for only ten minutes three times a day. When the water was turned on, the guards would tell the prisoners to fill their plastic containers or to use the toilet.

The scarcity of water was a big problem in the Sednaya Prison. I spent 55 days in that filthy cell, bathing only once. Prisoners began scratching themselves. The guards were worried and sent for the prison doctor an officer at the rank of first lieutenant, who diagnosed the problem as scabies. He ordered the guards to distribute a gallon of hot water to every prisoner, and he gave them a disinfectant solution which they put in the water. That was the only time I bathed.

After that, I spent 18 days in a group cell on the third floor, measuring 9 by 6 meters. It was very large. I was placed in there with my father, the writer Ali al-Abdullah, who told me about cases that were totally like what I had seen.

In the two months we spent there together, I learned for certain that as soon as any prisoner arrives to the Sednaya Prison, he is greeted the same way, in what is known as a welcoming party, or the welcoming tire. The beating is very severe, after which he is placed in a solitary cell with three other prisoners for up to one full year, during which time he does not breathe, or see light or sunshine. He only bathes if the doctor orders it, fearing the spread of scabies or other skin diseases.


The Techniques of Torture in the Prisons of Syrian Security Forces


SNN | #Syria:

The following report shows a condensed summary of the techniques of torture adopted in the prisons of the Syrian security forces during the last nine months of the popular uprising in Syria. It is based on written testimonies of some released detainees, who do not know each other, where the technique of torture is documented in the below summary only if three detainees agree unanimously on the fact that they were subjected to this kind of torture.

All the written testimonies of the former detainees are saved at the the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London.

The following is a summarised presentation of the first part of the techniques of torture adopted in the prisons of Syrian security forces since the beginning of the popular uprising in Syria on March 15th, 2011, which will be followed by the second and third parts in the near future:

1 – Electric Shock: where the live electric cable is put, after separating the copper small wires which comprise the element that transfers electricity within the plastic sheath of the cable, and spreading it on a distance that ranges from 5-10 cm in order to be used to stun the detainee electrically on the ears, nose, mouth, body parts, trunk, and the genitals of the detainee.

2 – Torture in the Wheel: where the detainee is put inside two large vehicles’ wheels, in a position that his backside is down, his hands are tied behind his back, and only his head and feet are on the wheels as to be beaten up on his face and feet until they bleed, and then they shift to another way of torture.

3 – Torture With Metal Chair: it is a metal chair frame that has got no seat, where the detainee is enforced to sit on it in a position in which his backside is limited to the boundaries of the seat metallic frame after it gets down near the ground so that makes all parts of his back and the back side of the legs and thighs exposed to brutal beating with the so-called quadripartite cable, which is a thick stripe used to conduct the high voltage electricity with a diameter that is more than 5 cm whose tip that is used for torture is stripped so that the small copper wires become cutting tools which tear up the skin of the detainee when he or she is beaten up with it.

4 – The Tying Up, Kicking, and Booting: where the two feet of the detainee are tied up, his hands get tied behind his back, and he is put on the ground as to be kicked and booted with the huge military boots worn by the investigators on all parts of his body, with a special focus on kicking the chest and the genitals of the detainee until they get swollen as a result of the inner bleeding and become several times bigger than their normal size. In many cases, the detainee vomits blood due to the dangerous visceral lacerations at the level of the gastrointestinal and respiratory track that occur as a result of such violent beating.

5 – Torture by the struggle with the wedged cat: it is a technique mainly used with female detainees in order to avow some information about the places where the activists are hidden. This happens by unclothing the woman of all her clothes, and enforcing her to get into a large bag of cannabis usually used to transfer compost or forage in Syria, and then letting a big cat in and wedging it with the detainee in the same bag so that the cat uses all of its claws and canine teeth in an attempt to get out of the bag in which it is wedged, the thing that causes absolute surficial and deep wounds on the whole body of the detained woman.

6 – Pincer Technique: it happens through using the pincer that builders use to root out the nails from the wooden stems used for construction, where such pincer is used first to pluck out the hair of the detainee’s head, uprooting his nails one by one, and then rooting out his teeth. This technique is mostly used with the children between 14 and 18 years old.

7 – Urinating in the detainee’s mouth: where the warder enforces the detainee to open his mouth so that the warder can urinate in it, and enforces him to swallow the urine.

8 – Burning Technique: it happens by extinguishing cigarettes smoked by the warders in the detainee’s body, in addition to using cigarette lighters to burn different parts of the detainee’s body, especially the most innervated areas like the genitalia and the breasts.

9 – Deaf Technique: it is based on the violent and repeated slapping of the detainee on the area of the ear until the eardrum is torn up and the ear of the detainee starts bleeding, and then he becomes deaf as a result of the intense bleeding that occurs in the middle ear of the detainee that has been exposed to the severe contusion.

10 – Roasted Thicken Technique: it happens through tying up the hands of the detainee behind his knees, and then inserting an iron rod, of the type used in the concrete construction, under his armpits, and then the detainee gets hung on a special holder of that technique so that the warder pushes the detainee from time to time to fluctuate and suffer from an intense pain due to the friction of the metal rod with his armpits. The detainee is left in such position for long hours that may last 20 hours a day.

11 – Ghost Technique: it means transforming the detainee into a ghost. This occurs through putting handcuffs on the detainee’s hands and hanging him to the ceiling of the investigation room, in a position where his feet do not touch the ground. He is left as such for long hours of up to 20 hours a day. This leads to the paralysis of hands due to the stretch and contusion of hands’ nerves. It causes dangerous dislocations on the joints of the hands and irreversible deformations as a result of this type of torture. It should be noted that this kind of torture is the most common, and it is used almost with all detainees without exceptions.

12 – Wind Carpet Technique: it occurs by putting the detainee on a plank in the mid of which exist joints that allow the folding of the board so that the detainee’s hands and feet get tied to the front and back of the plank, and his face on the ground of it. Then, the front side of the plank is lifted as to fold it so that the body of the detainee gets folded until the backside of his head touches the heel of his feet. This leads to a dangerous stretch in the ligaments and nerves of the spine, which results the most dreadful kind of pain a person can suffer from, the thing that causes an entire paralysis to the detainee for a period of not less than four days, and leads in many cases to the death of the detainee during this type of torture.

13 – Flask Technique: includes the enforcement of the detainee to take off his clothes from the chest down, and enforcing him to sit on a glass flask, where the upper side of the glass flask gets inserted in the detainee’s anus, and he is enforced to remain in such position until he loses conciseness as a result of the bleeding that occurs due to the tear and rupture of the tissues because of the stretch they were exposed to as a result of the wedging of the flask in the anus of the detainee.

It should be noted that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has been able to document 204 cases of death under torture of the detainees. This documentation includes all obtained details by direct testimonies from the victims’ families and the doctors who wrote the death certificates of the detainees or had examined them before their burial.

In the following table, there is a condensed summary of the information available at the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights concerning the detainees who died under torture in Syria since the uprising erupted on the 15th of March 2011 , among them were eight children and a woman. To have a look at the table in Excel format, please click on the link below:

syriahr. org/204-Victims-Killed-by-Torturing-Nov-2011.xls

As for the geographical distribution of the number of detainees died under torture, they were as follows:
– Homs province 112
– Damascus and Damascus countryside provinces 22
– Idlib province 19
– Hama province 12
– Dir Zour province 5
– Aleppo province 3
– Latakia province 4
– Daraa province 27

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights asserts that all documented written testimonies of those who were exposed to torture in the Syrian security branches by using the above techniques of torture doubtlessly affirms that the violations of human rights taking place in Syria actually amount to be considered as crimes against humanity that should be referred to the International Criminal Court without any hesitation or delay that may raise scepticism about commitment of the international community to refer everyone who may be contributing to the crimes against humanity in Syria to the International Criminal Court as it was previously the case, and a lot faster, with the similar crimes committed by Gadhafi former regime in Libya.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
London December 5th, 2011
Posted by Bivi …Patterns live blog


(12.09.2011) Nemer | Daraa | Large protests in support of Homs, Friday of “Strike For Dignity”


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