A letter from the prisoners of conscience in Central Damascus Prison, Adra
A letter from the prisoners of conscience in Central Damascus Prison, Adra
Thursday, July 2,2009 16:13
At the beginning we would like to reassure our families, beloved ones, our life partners and all those who are concerned about the Democratic change cause in Syria that our spirits are high, our beliefs are solid and our sticking to our targets is unshakable. As for our health, we do try to keep it via good care, cleanliness, right food and exercises, despite the ill health care in the prison.

Prison conditions;
The conditions of imprisonment involves sharp contradictions, on one hand the prison administration has refused to mind us as political prisoners, or prisoners of conscience, saying that it did not have political prisoners but “judicial” prisoners. On the other hand, they do treat us as political prisoners, refusing to gather us in one cell, though the usual procedures are to gather all the convicted of the same charge at one place, and as we all convicted for the same “charge” so we should be at the same place or wing. Moreover the authorities of the prison distributed us on different wings of the prison, and prevented those who are in the same wing to be held in the same room, they also restricted our movement through monitoring us as we are always accompanied by a police officer whether we are going to medical care or hairdressing or visits’ nets or lawyers’ nets. Even our meetings with families and lawyers are prepared to be accompanied by officers. The target of being accompanied with officers all the time is to watch our moves and listens to our conversations and attitudes to submit a report to the prison chief, then to the intelligence agencies eager to know what is going on between us and our families and Our lawyers. This raises again the issue of intelligence dominance of national life in Syria, to the extent that intelligence agents were present in the hearing room during investigating us by the First criminal judge in Damascus. According to the Syrian Law, only the judge, the lawyer and the accused should attend this investigation.

Monitoring the visits;
The procedures of prison administration have caused embarrassment of our families, as talking with the family is usually intimate and should be private, as there are things cannot be said in front of strangers, let alone an officer who is committed to monitor and report what he hears and feels. This forced the families not to speak on personal and family issues fearing of being exploited by the intelligence services against our children and families or to put pressure on us, though talking about such matters is of great importance to our family and personal life. The matters get worse when the visiting lawyer who often wants to discuss things related to our case, which should stay only between us and him. There have been verbal altercations between more than one of us and the officer, as a result of his eagerness to hear every whisper. That officer is suffering from a persecution complex which he turned into crude sadism against detainees.

Arbitrary procedures and corruption:
This is the basic contradiction in prison but there are so many other contradictions but of less importance to us, as for example, prisoners are allowed to purchase food, including meat, vegetables and fruits, any prisoner who has money is obligated to buy them because of the prison’s poor inadequate food. On the other hand it is not allowed for prisoners to possess metal knives or spoons, while we can not cook without using these tools. This created a black market in prison, to trade the prohibited supplies (knives, metal spoons, mirrors, razor blades,,) for ten times its original price. This raises questions on the premise of these procedures on one hand and on how some people manage to violate these taboos and enter those things to prison on the other hand. Moreover, who is behind all this?

But this did not solve the problem, it creates another contradiction, since the purchase of such tools from the black market creates another problem where the prisoner faces the problem of how to hide the prohibited tools while knowing the fact that the prison administration carries out inspections, during which they sprinkle the prisoners’ belongings, food clothes and every thing all over the ground and confiscate any prohibited tools then punish its holder for 10 days in a Solitary confinement.

Association for the Welfare of Prisoners and Their Families, which sell food as well as clothing, canned goods and cleaning materials, does not help the prisoners, as it sells second-class material for tourist prices.

But we can handle all these difficulties, based on our beliefs in the correctness of our political opinions and the need to sacrifice in order to fulfill our goals and the interests of our people.

Passing the time;
Time passes so slowly, all the central prison of Damascus (Adra) was punished since 25-1-2007 after riots by a limited number of prisoners (about 70 prisoners), later the prison administration punished the entire prison (approximately 7000 prisoners) by reducing the out-of-room periods, they decided to keep prisoners inside their rooms for 20 hours a day, allowing them to get out only four hours (9-11 am, 15-17 pm). Before this punishment the prisoners were allowed to stay out for 12 hours a day.

As part of the punishment, the administration of the prison banned the use of metal knives and spoons, glass cups, razor blades mirrors and radio sets. They also imposed bathing and hairdressing in the prison’s salon and bath wing, where they specialized one day a week for each wing of the prison (each wing has between 700-1000 prisoners) during this short period of time the prisoner is subjected to humiliation (grades, collective walking, sitting on the ground waiting for their turns , so quick shaving, quick shower (five minutes for each person, etc. ..), prisoners also are obligated to walk along the wall when they are oriented towards visits’ nets or lawyers’ nets.

After the riots, the prison administration began to deal with the prisoners on the basis of humiliation, intimidation and the destruction of morale, they have turned the prison to a branch of intelligence, where there are all torture ways, not to mention the accumulation of so many prisoners in one room where they put between 60-90 prisoners in every room with only 32 beds, so most of the prisoners sleep on the ground,. By this way, imprisonment is not to reform and to assist the prisoner to get rid of his mistakes and to provide him/her with assistance, training and rehabilitation along with legal advice.

The Administration of the prison also limited the work of the prison library (there is a good library and a rich variety of valuable books). Now the library allows only one book a week for the prisoner who is allowed to get a special card to borrow books. We asked permission to borrow books from the library, but the prison administration refused, although we repeatedly insisted on our demand, they also repeatedly refused our requests. Moreover, they also refused our repeated demands to allow us to enter some personal supplies and food into the prison and our access to a radio set which can allow us following up what is happening in our country and the world and listen to songs we like. This made our day so long, particularly as we are in the same room with criminal prisoners and offenders (murderers and prisoners convicted to prostitution, theft and forced robbery..), most of them are illiterate, and do not care for anything but finishing their sentence period to go out for the completion of their former life project, this exterminated any opportunity to establish any good relations with other prisoners or get engaged in meaningful talks. our presence with those people made us see with the real magnitude of the crime, poverty and social backwardness of our country which had been deepened by the pursued policies and the widespread use of violence, organized crimes and drugs. We have talked to a number of them to discourage their wrong behavior and change their lives, but their objection reflected their sense of bitterness and sight obstruction created by the official and economic policies: bribery, nepotism, discrimination, etc. ...

Health Care;
Indeed, the health care services provided in prison is only formal and really bad; there is so limited number of physicians (no more than a handful treating 7000 prisoners), for each wing ( between 700-1000 prisoners) it had been allocated one single day for medical check. As a result of physicians who disregard the prisoners dealing with them as criminals who deserve whatever happens to them, we have some experiences that might be useful in clarification;

- Anwar al-Bunni, a lawyer suffering from arthritis, which resulted from a lack of movement along with high moisture in the winter at Adra prison (located in a desert area), as a result of the spread of the disease in Al-Bunni’s body, it caused fatty masses on his knees and put pressure on the nerves preventing him from standing and walking normally, which requires surgical eradication. Both parties reject to operate this surgery, the prison administration refuses in order to torture the lawyer more and more (prison chief insists on keeping him on an upper bed, though he know that Al-Bunni is unable to climb up and down the bed). On the other hand, Al-Bunni refuses the operation fearing that anything might happen resulting in serious aggravation afterwards, noting the lack of sanitation and health care services required, especially he will have to stay in plaster over than one month, during this period he will have to keep asking for health care.

- the second case is the writer Ali Al-Abdullah who suffers of problems in his left ear due to perforation of the drum membrane, as a result of being beaten in the branch of the State Security Intelligence, he asked so many times to be treated, but the physician’s answer was that his ear treatment is not in the jurisdiction of the prison and all he can give him is the advice to put a piece of cotton wetted with oil in his ear while taking his shower. After nearly a year Abdullah started to feel deterioration of his hearing with this ear. He told his lawyer and when the news spread reaching the media and human rights organizations, the prison physician called him and objected that Abdullah “did not” go to physician for treatment. Then Abdullah mentioned what happened between him and the chief of prison physicians and he was told that a medical committee would come to the prison hospital along with a specialized physician to check his ear and if needed he would be transferred to a hospital outside the prison. Since then (this was on 20-10-2008) that promised committee did not show up and Abudllah had not been checked.

However, we are steadfast and stick to our positions and this does not prevent us from renewing our requests through you to allow us family unsupervised visits and the access to a radio set, books and allowing our families to enter us food during their visits.

prisoners of conscience in Adra prison
Damascus - June 2009

Additional note by the Arabic Network:

- The former Parliamentarian Riad Seif, suffers of prostate cancer, the outbreak of the disease in the body made it crucial to transfer him to the hospital more than once, so it is a must to release him immediately for health reasons, however, the authorities deal with his health conditions with recklessness, as if he is suffering from flu. Seif needs special care, routine periodic ex-rays and tests every two weeks and, of course, the authorities deal with his illness, out of the mentality of revenge, to the degree that they prevent his family from revealing their fears for his health, as they fear from delivering the required medications to him.

- Dr. Kamal Labwani suffers from severe inflammation of the prostate and spread to a large degree so that all people are afraid that his case is so similar to the case Riad Seif (prostate cancer). Dr. Labwani has suffered from a lack of qualitative health care, but for his good luck he is a physician and managed to treat himself, Or else his situation today would have been so much. Now he is better and takes his medication regularly.

This is the text of the letter sent by the prisoners of conscience in Syria, held in Adra prison, To the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. We deploy it as it is without any modification, but we have added two paragraphs at the end about the prisoners Riad Seif and Kamal Labwani to complete the picture