Syrian refugee recounts torture

By: Sarah Lynch

MAFRAQ, Jordan – Dark scars on Mohammad Al-Fawari’s face stand out even in the shadows of his cold, dimly lit home in a poor part of town where he and his family sought refuge near the Syrian-Jordan border.

Mourners chant anti-government slogans during a funeral in Idlib, Syria, on Thursday.

The wounds — a result of electric shock — are the faded signs of torture he endured while in prison, he says. But Mohammad and his family count themselves lucky because they were able to flee Homs as it was pounded by Syrian forces.

Thursday, United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos toured the shattered Syrian city and was “struck” by the devastation. She said in Damascus that the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs is “completely destroyed” and deserted. Where the residents are she could not say.

In February, the regime of Bashar Assad intensified the campaign on the rebel stronghold with bombardments that killed 700 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch, citing local sources. Since the uprising began a year ago, 8,000 Syrians have been killed across the country, the United Nations says.

U.N. chief Ban Ki Moon says he has received “grisly” reports that Assad’s troops summarily executed locals, beheading them or torturing them after the rebel Free Syrian Army left.

Thousands have fled to the Lebanon border. Mohammad, 26, and his brother Ahmad Al-Fawari, a decade older, fled to Jordan with their families.

“There is no mercy,” Ahmad says at the family’s rented home.

Days before the brothers fled, their uncle Nizar was shot to death by a sniper while on his way to buy bread at a store. They say he was killed because they are Sunnis who were living in an Alawite Shiite neighborhood. “We lived together for almost 40 years, and now they are shooting us, killing us,” Ahmad says of the Syrian troops, who are largely Alawite Shiite.

During their last weeks in Syria, Ahmad and Mohammad barricaded themselves and their families in their home. They left bribes in holes on outside walls to deter Assad’s forces. Power lines cut, the family stayed warm by burning shoes and old clothes along with wood from doors and furniture.

Mohammad says he was stopped at a checkpoint and detained without being told why and spent over a month in jail.

For 35 days, Mohammad says, he was kept in a 9-by-9-foot room with about 75 men. Trying to sleep, he was often jolted by sounds of security forces using the backs of Kalashnikov rifles to strike men in the head.

“Every 30 minutes, they came in and harassed us,” he says.

Prisoners lived in a cell that had no toilet. They were fed one meal a day, an egg or potato with bread and a few teaspoons of water. Mohammad says water was poured over his head before he was electrically shocked. Some of the men had broken bones sticking out.

Family members reinforce Mohammad’s story, and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reported similar cases of detainment, detention and torture across Syria.

More than 100 people detained in Syria were interviewed by HRW and reported “rampant use of torture in detention centers against even the youngest detainees.”

Among the most common methods are electric shock, beating the soles of feet and hanging by bound wrists so toes barely touch the ground, said Nadim Houry, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

Mohammad was released from prison when his family negotiated his freedom by paying $4,000, which came from relatives sending money from the Gulf.

In Jordan, Mohammad, Ahmad and their families sleep at night with little heat and donated blankets. They long to fight back against Syria’s rulers. “We think they should arm us,” Mohammad says about the opposition. ” We call on anyone who has mercy to help.”

Source: USA Today

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