by M. B. Awan
The village of Killi lies in the north-west of Syria, near the Turkish border and has been free from the control of the Assad regime for well over a year. The overwhelming first impression gained from Killi and its’ people is that of euphoria over being free, symbolised by the nightly demonstrations which occur after the night prayers (taraweeh) in Ramadan. It was on one jubilant night after those demonstrations that the dark, human side to the price of freedom the people of Syria have and are having to pay was demonstrated to me by a brave and remarkable young man, Abdul Jabbar Abdul Kareem.
I was invited by a local teacher, whom had become a close friend of mine to his Uncle’s house. The aforementioned uncle had been imprisoned and tortured by Hafiz al-Assad, Bashar’s father in 1982 and his son had just been released by the Assad regime earlier that evening. A large crowd of locals had gathered in order to congratulate the family and hear the young man, Abdul Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s story. Abdul Jabbar looked like the average twenty-something that you would meet in any part of the world. He spoke about how they took him and tortured him. After most of the significant members of the gathering had left, I was granted an interview.
Abdul Jabbar, somewhat atypically for a victim of torture, was in good spirits and was remarkably composed when explaining what happened:
“I am a resident in Kelly and someone (probably in his place of work) informed the government about me, spreading lies, such that I was a terrorist, etc. I travel to Aleppo for work on a daily basis, so one day several months ago I was stopped at a checkpoint when my details came up on a wanted list. The army immediately seized and began to beat me, accusing me of being a terrorist; no questions were asked. I was then arrested and taken to a Military Security facility in Aleppo.”
There they kept him for 12 days. He was interrogated and tortured there for 1 hour, beaten, verbally abused (they cursed Allah, his God and his religion) and accused him of all sorts of crimes: that he was a terrorist, that he was a violent member of the revolution. He told the truth, despite being tortured, that he was innocent of everything he was accused of. After that he was transferred to an even worse stage of torture in Idlib (one of the main cities in the north of Syria), which all seemed to be planned to break him, in order to get him admit some crimes so they could torture him further. Once inside the military interrogation facility in Idlib, the torture and the conditions were far worse as was evident from the indignation in his face as he recounted this part of the story. Here he stayed for approximately 17 days (Abdul Jabbar is not exactly sure, because he didn’t see sunlight during this time). Two of those days were spent in a 1-metre square cell with four men. General population was little better; in dungeon like conditions; a room approximately 50 metres squared with 110 people inside. There was no natural light, one toilet and no running water. They were given water and bread twice a day. Fleas, lice and skin irritation were rampant due to the unhygienic conditions. He was blindfolded and led out for interrogation twice for 2-hour periods. The first time an officer in the army was present and the placed him in a reverse hanging position and accused him of various crimes (which he denied). The police then proceeded to beat him, verbally abuse his God, his family (mother, wife, daughters, sisters, etc.) and then let him hang in a painful stress position, while drinking alcohol and mocking him. This happened twice, although the second one seemed to consist mostly of a beating (he showed me where his hands had bled due to the pressure of the cuffs applied to him). Eventually, he was released when they determined that they had no evidence of any crime.
Even though he was an active participant of a truly popular revolution before his most recent dose of the Assad regime’s concept of justice, he is now even more determined to aid a revolution, which seeks to free the Syrian people from the shackles of a tyrant who has terrorised his population in the vein of his father since he took office in 2000.