Saydnaya Prison in Syria, Forgotten Opinion Prisoners, Information are Absent, Barred Visits
Syria is a state that apply the State of Emergency for 45 years, where there traces of partisan diversity are not seen, repainting the political atmosphere with one lackluster color, brining the country to a state of no freedoms, and blatant violations of human rights by the regime, and necessarily enforced absence of the fourth power -Press- where the independent and partisan press fully disappeared, beside the internet on which the government has firmly tightened its grasp.
So Syria has become a country of the covert and overt informants, who do closely watch the citizens everywhere they go, follow them to worship houses, and share with them public facilities as coffee shops and universities. Therefore the independent civil community in Syria has almost diminished, and the minor differences between a despot monarchy and a dictator republican regime decline. This situation had set Syria as a model state of no community -institutions, with rightless citizen who practices no freedom. Despite signing and ratifying many international obligatory conventions that provide for human and citizen, social, political, economical and personal rights, as well as a number of treaties providing for respect of human dignity and freedoms especially the freedom of expression. This overall situation has changed Syria to state of oppression, where the citizen suffers guiltlessly the tyranny’s obsession against critics, and all the different -opinion makers are conspirators.
For who is watching the human and rights conditions in Syria, the anxiety is experienced widely in anticipation of daily morning news, receiving a story that seems ordinary coming daily just like the weather forecasting, and morning news, but from different sources, informing of a new name added to the extending list of the person arrested for their opinions, or detained for speaking up their thoughts.
The record of the opinion and pen prisoners is becoming longer every day and seems going like this to infinity, what made it more difficult for those who are concerned of monitoring and reporting the violations of the opinion detainees in Syria, and the challenge they face in writing reliable reports about the persecution against a group for its thoughts and words. Thereby we motivated to issue this paper about the prisoners of Saydnaya in particular, where their conditions might not be the worst, but in the absent of information, and under the firm security blackout on the reality of the situations in prisons and the prisoners conditions, where visits are banned, and news are inconsistent when it comes to reasons and results, what made the regime’s violent actions in quelling the rebellion in the prison last July, sound mysterious and vague.
– Saydnaya prison locates in Saydnaya village, 30 kilometers northern to Damascus the capital, what considered as one of the largest and newest Syrian prisons, being constructed in 1987.
– The prison building composed of three floors; each floor consists of 20 collective mass-cells, while the first floor consists of 100 solitary cells.
– The human rights institutions in Syria has estimated the numbers of the prisoners of Saydnaya to be 1500- 2000 prisoners, many of them belong to groups with Islamic background, while the prisoners could be “Islamists, nationalists, leftists, liberal, Kurdish, and prisoners from different Arab states” but they have one thing in common: the unfair trials that sent them behind the bars of the jail, lack of information or news about them for about 70 days following the big uprising last July.
The Events of Saydnaya Prisoners Rebellion on 5/7/2008:
As usual the Syrian security apparatus did not reveal any information or details about the reality of what is happening in the prison on the fifth of last July, they were silent as well about what is going on in the prison or what happened to the victims of the violent quelling of the rebellion, giving a so brief communiqué that says no more than: “some of the prisoners triggered riots, so the intervention of the security forces becomes a must”!
Now instead of publishing a detailed statement on the findings of the investigation conducted by a special governmental committee, to respond to the different versions of the reasons and results of this rebellion that resulted in many killings among the prisoners; the Syrian government had provided only silence and closed the doors before the relatives and families of the prisoners barring the visits, as well as obstructing the strengthening networks of cell phones within Saydnaya area, as an attempt to keep the prisoners incommunicado, and to prevent the prison officers from communications with the world outside the prison, after the government suspected communications took place inside the prison to trigger the rebellion, and to deprive the people living in the prison neighborhood from using these phone communications.
No matter what are the reasons of this rebellion, the bad conditions this prison is featured with- which led to a previous rebellion at the end of last March, and the intention of the Syrian security apparatus in punishing and getting revenge from the prisoners for the rebellion of March 2008 are believed to be among the reasons of the last rebellion, that affected all of the prisoners including the opinion prisoners, whom their fate had brought them with fabricated and flimsy cases in a disreputable prison, following unfair trials where none of the minimum international standards of suspects treatment was considered.
The opinion prisoners in Saydnaya
* There are a number of opinion prisoners in Saydnaya whose families do not know anything about them since the rebellion event, because of barring the visits and imposing a thick wall of secrecy and discretion around it, and here are some of them:
* Ryad Dirar, 53 years old, Kurdish, used to work as an Arabic Language teacher, activist in the Committees for the Revival of the Civil Society was arrested in June 2005, on the background of a speech he presented in the memorial of the Sheikh Ma’shouq Al Khaznawi in “Qamishli”, in which he demanded the investigation into his death and accounting the murderers. He was handed a sentence from the State Security Court in June 2006 to 5 years in prison for “publishing false news that may incite the sectarianism and racism”, he spent two of which in Adra prison, before he was transferred to Saydnaya.
* Nazar Restnawi, 46, Engineer, and activist in the Arab Organization for Human Rights, was arrested in April 2005, because of his vivid activities in human rights, and his contributions in monitoring the continuous violations in Syria, and solidarity with opinion prisoners. So he was sentenced to 4 years in prison, to spend them in Saydnaya, after he was charged for “publishing false news, contempt and libel the president of the republic”.
* Firas Saad: poet and an active writer on the internet, he is from Latakia, was arrested on 30/7/2006, because of his articles he has been publishing in the Modern discussion including his article entitled: “Michel Kilo Discovers the Syrian Sickness”, he was referred to the State Security Court in June 2007, and was handed a sentence to 4 years in prison in April 2008, for the offense of “publishing false news, which might weaken the nation spirit” according to the article 286 of the Syrian Penal Code.
* Tarik Al Biasi: a 24 years old blogger, from the coastal Banyas, he was arrested on 7/7/2007 by the military security because of a comment he posted in one of the web forums, criticizing the negativities of the security apparatus, he had admitted directly that he is the one who wrote those comments, so he was sent to Saydnaya Prison, and the court in Damascus handed him a sentence to 3 years in prison (after dropping 3 years from the original sentence to 6years) for two crimes:
– Undermining national sentiment
– Dwindling the nation spirit
The sentence came in accordance to articles 285-286 of the Syrian penal code.
* Karim Arabji, a blogger, 30 years old, from Bab Toma in Damascus, Economics Faculty graduate- University of Damascus, he is the moderator of the free forum in Akhawia.net. was arrested on 7/6/2007, referred to the State Security Court, the court demanded to charge him for “publishing false news that might undermine the nation sentiment” according to the article 286 of the penal code, so he was transferred to Palestine branch, then to Saydnaya Military Prison. Although he spent already a whole year in prison, but no sentence come against him yet.
* Mohamed Waleed Al Husseini, 67 years old, employee, arrested on 14/3/2006, because of a discussion ran between him and a friend of his in al-Rawda famous coffee shop in Damascus, and their conversation was heard by some of secret informants, so he was arrested from the coffee shop, and accused of disseminating false news that might undermine the national sentiment”, just for what he had said in the coffee shop he was handed a sentence to three years term in prison.
The 7-Youth Group
- Maher Asbar Ibrahim, 28 years old, free worker, sentenced to 7 years in prison
- Tariq Al Ghourani, 33 years old, an Assistant to an Engineer, sentenced to 7 years in prison.
- Allam Fakhour, 29 years old, Faculty of Arts student, sentenced to 5 years in prison
- Ayham Saqr, 33 years old, free worker, sentenced to 5 years in prison
- Husam Mulhim, 23 years old, Law Student, sentenced to 5 years in prison
- Diab Sria, 23 years old, Law Student, sentenced to 5 years in prison
- Omar al Abd Allah, 23 years old, Art Students, sentenced to 5 years in prison
Mahir Asbar and Tariq Al Ghourani were convicted of “disseminating false news, information, and articles that might put Syria in danger of hostile actions”, according to the article 287 of the penal code, they were handed sentences to 7 years in prison, while sentences to five years, all of the rest were students except Ayham Saqr who was working in beauty salon, the harsh sentences were issued by the state security court on 18/6/2007, and also for participating in establishing a youth discussion group, and publishing pro-democracy articles on the internet.
Though the youth had affirmed that they were tortured, and entitled to ill-treatment, but the court turned a blind eye to this issue, handing them the harsh sentences they are now serving in Saydnaya.
Of course those 13 prisoners are not the only opinion prisoners in Saydnaya, the prison that host only a undersized group of opinion prisoners in Syria.
They are only example of inhumane cruelty that the government practices against its citizens. And the ambiguous legal expression of the article” undermining the nation sentiment, dwindling the nation spirits” of the articles 285, 286 of the Syrian penal code, and they could be interpreted to wide range of meanings has become a reason for sending its offender to prison, and those who break this article are estimated to thousands.
It is a neither incredible, nor acceptable situation, of course it is not bearable for all of those who lives under such conditions. The whole matter started with a conversation on a coffee shop or an article posted somewhere online, or only a comment of one sentence that wrote in an online published article, which could hold some critics even the least of it, against any of the state institutions or its officials or the president as a legal personality, which could end up with:
- The arrest and detention in state security quarters, or air forces’ or abduction.
- The precautionary incarceration and investigations which could continue for months, or years.
- Accusation of the most common charge “disseminating false news that might undermine the nation’s sentiment and dwindling the national spirit”, or “contempt of the president” or “contempt of religions” or “engagement in unauthorized organizations in purpose of changing the ruling system”.
- Unfair trial in state security court, under the state of emergency, where everything is possible, and the suspect is derived from all of rights of accused persons.
- lengthy terms in prison, and probably imposing solitary confinement.
- The prisoner becomes a permanent prisoner in Adra or Saydnaya or any other prison.
- The prison will not be the only punishment; the prisoner will also suffer the security raids, and ill-treatment, which could reach depriving from family visits, and solitary confinement, and unlimited range of harassments.