End the horror in Syria's torture prisons

19 August 2016, 16:53 UTC | Syria
© Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun

People are dying from starvation. They’re not getting even the most basic health care, and are dying from infected cuts and ingrown fingernails. Many have been brutally beaten, raped, given electric shocks and more, often to extract forced “confessions”.

Anyone suspected of opposing the Syrian government is at risk. Labourers, business people, students, bloggers, university professors, lawyers, doctors and journalists. People helping their neighbours. Activists standing up for minority groups.

Together, we must end the horror in Syria’s prisons. As a crucial first step, the Syrian government must let in independent monitors to investigate these brutal detention centres, now.

"The first thing this torture does is take your dignity. It breaks the human."

Arabic teacher and torture survivor, late 20s, Syria

Unimaginable torture

Former prisoners speak of an endless cycle of beatings. On the journey after arrest. In transit between detention centres. As part of a “welcome party” of abuse on arrival at a prison. And in some cases every day for every conceivable minor ‘breaking’ of rules, including talking or not cleaning their cells.

Many of the people we spoke to said they had been beaten with plastic hose pipes, silicone bars and wooden sticks. Some had been scalded with hot water and burnt with cigarettes. Others were forced to stand in water and given electric shocks.

"It was like a part of my soul died… After that, I had no joy, no laughter."

Student subjected to electrocution, Syria

Some of the techniques used are so commonplace they have their own nicknames. There’s the ‘flying carpet’, where people are strapped face-up on a foldable board, and one end is brought up to the other. Or the “tyre” (dulab), where people are forced into a vehicle tyre, with their foreheads pressed onto their knees or ankles, and beaten.

Both men and women have been raped and sexually harassed. Women have also been threatened with rape in front of their relatives in order to extract “confessions”.

Sub-human conditions

People suffer acute mental health problems due to overcrowding and lack of sunlight. In some cases, people told us there could be more than 50 people in a cell as small as 3m by 3m. They have little or no access to medical care and prisoners frequently die as a result of completely preventable medical problems.  

This absolute horror is designed to break the will and destroy the spirit of those detained. Survivors are psychologically traumatized and physically broken. They often require intensive medical and emotional support to rebuild their life.

"I was very close to losing my mind."

University professor, late 50s, describing the impact of solitary confinement

In most cases, the Syrian government denies the security forces have even arrested these people. Or they refuse to give any information about their whereabouts. It means that many detainees are “disappeared” – outside the protection of the law – making them especially vulnerable to abuse.

All illustrations on this page are drawn by a survivor of prison life in Syria, who had first-hand experience of the torture and sub-human conditions.

International Region: