Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Syria: Syrian Activist Speaks of Interrogation Ordeal

This article originally appeared in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, www.iwpr.net

Syrian Activist Speaks of Interrogation Ordeal

Now in hiding, campaigner describes year of repeated questioning and threats by the secret police.

I have been called in for investigation more than 40 times in less than a year. The first time was in March 2010, after the police decided that my activism was really making problems for them. A few weeks after that, the interrogations started in earnest.

They last from morning to night and every time you arrive, you don’t know whether you will ever leave again. You are put in a room and left to wait, for half an hour, for an hour, six hours - you never know. Sometimes you are simply left there all day. I’ve been held by many different departments of the secret police, including the national security department, the interior security department and the military section, known here as the Palestine branch because they used to deal with a lot of Palestinians living in Syria. This last group has the worst reputation of all the different parts of the Syrian secret police.

The first time I was called in, someone came to my house and gave me a letter telling me to go and present myself at a certain time on a certain day. After that first time, they would just phone me up and tell me to come in. Many times when I was actually released from interrogation, I was told today we are letting you go but you will be back in three or four days.

In my first interrogation by the international branch I was given a piece of paper and told to sit down and write everything that had ever happened to me from the hour I was born until now – what friends I had in elementary school, what my results had been in each exam, what I had done during my military service. They wanted every single detail.

Of course, they have information about you anyway, and before I was brought in for the first time they carried out their own investigation so they could compare it to my own account to see what was true and what wasn’t. So ahead of going in for my first interrogation I met up with people who already had experience of the secret police and they coached me on what to say and what to hide. Now I am an expert and I share my experiences with other people!

During all these interviews I was never beaten, although I was threatened a lot and I lived in fear of something really bad happening. You really don’t know if they will let you leave this time, you don’t know if they will carry out their threats to torture you or throw you in prison.

Once the Palestine branch took me to a solitary confinement cell and told me that was it - I was going to spend the rest of my life here. I was kept there from morning until evening and it was truly the longest day of my life. I really thought I was going to stay in prison forever.

Even though I’ve been interrogated so many times they really never found out much about me. I just played the role of a naive kid and they bought it, or at least some of them did. They just had their suspicions over my activities and only knew about some of the non-political activism I’d carried out under my real name. I told them that our lovely president has given us the right to carry out such activities, acting the innocent as usual.

They had never come close to my activist identity, but in December 2010 they started to link various pieces of information they had together and started to think I was playing a key role in the opposition. The threat became more serious. A security official phoned me and told me I was not allowed to leave the country and that if they called me in I had to report within half an hour.

When I told a friend about this, he said, “Now they have you. Don’t ever go back because this time they will arrest you and torture you to get you to talk about all of us.”

So I hid in Damascus for a month and looked for someone who could get me out of the country. Now I have managed to escape, but I will never give up this struggle. I am not afraid anymore. So many of our activist colleagues are dying in Dera’a, so what more do we have to lose?

I consider myself to be a leader, and what kind of person encourages others to protest but hides away themselves? No-one knows what will happen to the regime but we hope it is going to fall. My own personal belief is that change has already happened. Now it’s just a matter of time until the regime crumbles.

Malath Aumran is the pseudonym of a 26-year-old cyber activist and political science student in his third year at Damascus university.