- By Amr Ahmed
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- A Syrian activist told Asharq Al-Awsat the story of his detention in Damascus prisons, saying that the headquarters of President Bashar al-Assad’s state security apparatus have become akin to “graves of fire where the rebels are tortured”.
Having finally fled to Egypt, activist Tariq Sharabi recalled the horrors he went through after entering the state security headquarters in Syria’s capital, Damascus. The building consists of eight floors, with its external walls and huge iron gates heavily guarded by machine guns. Each floor has a dimly-lit corridor lined with around forty iron-door prison cells.
Tariq Sharabi, a 26 year old Damascus native, revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat what he saw and heard behind the bars of the state security headquarters in the capital. He began: “I was arrested for participating in a demonstration that began at the al-Dakak Mosque in Damascus, and soon incorporated 5 thousand people. We took the demonstration to “Freedom Square”, we raised the flag of independence there, and we wrote on the walls of the streets calling for Bashar al-Assad to leave. But a few minutes later we were surprised by hundreds of Syrian security forces, fully armed, shooting at us with machine gun fire. After I hid in a house for an hour and a half, and then fled to al-Hasan Mosque, I was arrested”.
Sharabi was taken, along with others, to the headquarters of the state security apparatus in Damascus: “There were 200 of us in a large room with no ventilation. The walls were engraved and intimidating, like a tomb”. As Sharabi recalled his experience, his facial features were marked with sorrow. He went on to say: “After two hours of beatings and insults, we were taken to the ‘investigations office’. When I emerged from the cell on my way to the office, there was a corridor more than 20 meters long in front of me with iron doors on either side (about 40 doors in total per floor). We heard the screams of those being tortured and those being shocked with electricity”.
Sharabi continued: “Our bodies convulsed when we heard the screams… At one point I was standing in front of one cell when I caught a glimpse of a naked man suspended by his feet with blood coming from his body. His flesh had been mutilated by a large number of flogging wounds, and they [the security officers] continued to beat him up and torture him with sticks and whips”. Sharabi went on to say: “As we were being marched to the investigations room on the third floor, we heard raised voices from behind one of the cell doors chanting for Bashar al-Assad, to further increase our fears about what we were heading towards. When we got to the third floor, I had the feeling that we would be killed for what we saw and heard”.
Sharabi explained that: “They did not cover our eyes…they wanted to scare us until we told them everything. Then a man entered [the investigations office] wearing civilian clothes, who told us that he was the director of operations…he told us that we were in the state security building, and revealed that we were charged with being present in a well-known demonstrations area, and that we had been arrested whilst trying to organize a march. Of course I denied all of this, telling an officer that I had been praying in al-Dakak Mosque and was then on my way to my grandfather’s house. The director then looked to the officer and ordered him to put me in a room by myself, where I was held for almost an hour”.
Sharabi revealed that he was released after being subjected to a torture session, and after being forced to sign a declaration not to participate in the demonstrations again, adding that “if the state security apparatus had confirmed the information they had about me, I would still be locked inside a state security prison”. He added that only 4 people out of around the 200 who were arrested along with him were released; remarking that “Bashar al-Assad’s state security headquarters are like graves of fire where the revolutionaries are tortured”.
Regarding how he managed to flee to Cairo, Sharabi said: “After my participation in several demonstrations in Damascus, one of the activists told me that my name was included on a state security list, and this information stemmed from security sources who are secretly in support of the revolution. The activists asked me to flee Syria and follow the situation from the outside. Thus my family fled first so they would come to no harm, and afterwards I escaped through Jordan towards Egypt”.