Survivor of Syrian regime prisons recounts ordeal

ISTANBUL (AA): A former inmate of Syrian regime prisons recounted the torture and abuse she faced during her detention. Speaking exclusively to Anadolu Agency, Lula Halilaga a pseudonym to protect her identity recalled the torture and sexual violence she had to endure during her three years of incarceration.

Her ordeal began in 2013 with a knock on her door by regime soldiers while she was breastfeeding her baby. It was the first time that Halilaga, a mother of three, was arrested and forced to leave her children behind. She was released shortly after, only to discover that her husband had also been detained. Halilaga was later arrested in Aleppo, where she was transferred to Adra prison in Damascus after being moved among several detention centers.

During her three years behind bars, Halilaga said the regime soldiers tortured her on a daily basis using various methods, both physical and psychological. “We were tortured for many hours in [Adra] prison every day. They were hanging us on hangers and would beat us with wet sticks,” she said. “They would beat us until we passed out and would torture us with electric shocks. Then they would take us to our cells and wait until we regained consciousness. This continued on a daily basis.”

Recalling her suffering, Halilaga said another form of pain was seeing her husband broken by torture in the same prison. She said regime soldiers ensured that she would see her husband suffering. “When I saw him in the prison, I couldn’t recognize him. He was in very bad shape,” she said, adding the regime officers also harassed her in front of him to make him talk. “My husband had not been able to stand the daily torture anymore. When I saw him at the prison for the last time, I saw in his eyes that he would not be able to hold on to life any longer,” she said.

“One day later, I received the message that he died.” Speaking about the other human rights abuses she witnessed in the prisons, Halilaga said the Syrian regime tortured not only men and women but also children and the elderly. She said they would gather the prisoners together in one area, where they would witness how regime soldiers would strip men naked and torture them. “We witnessed how some of them were tortured to death.

“Children under the age of 12 would be tortured to make their mothers talk. Likewise, the elderly were tortured to obtain information on their children who joined the opposition,” she added. After spending three years in various prisons, Halilaga was brought to a court, where she was sentenced to another six years. Her family offered a large amount of money as a bribe for her freedom, she said, noting this was the only way to rescue her.

After she was released, however, Halilaga said she had to flee to Turkey as regime officers threatened to arrest her again if she did not pay more money. She said she had to leave one of her children with her in-laws as they were living in a regime-held area which she could not enter out of fear of being arrested again. Noting that she survived all the pain and suffering, Halilaga highlighted that those who remain in the prisons continue to suffer in even more painful circumstances than herself.

Calling on the international community to take action to secure the release of those who remain in Syrian prisons, she said the Conscience Movement, an international non-governmental organization (NGO), is an important initiative to shed light on the reality of those still facing torture. According to a statement by the NGO, more than 13,500 women have been jailed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, while more than 7,000 women remain in detention, where they are subject to torture, rape and sexual violence. To raise awareness of the plight of imprisoned women, the Conscience Movement is calling on the international community to get their suffering on the international agenda for their immediate and unconditional release.

It is being assisted by more than 2,000 NGOs from around the world and thousands of supporters in 110 countries. Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in early 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity. According to UN figures, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed or displaced in the conflict, mainly by regime airstrikes in opposition-held areas.