Arrested, Tortured, and Exiled for Demanding Dignity in Syria
My name is Yaman Alqadri. I am 20 years old. I am Syrian. I am now a psychology student living in Montreal, Canada. Almost exactly four years ago I was a medical student at Damascus University. On November 3, 2011, while on the university campus, I was captured, beaten up and detained by Syrian regime agents. My crime? Earlier that fall, I had distributed some flyers around the campus with the following slogans on them:
The Syrian people deserve freedom and dignity.
The Syrian people are one.
The army is for the protection of the people, not the regime.
Later that day, and for the following 23 days, I had to discover first-hand what the consequences were to ask for freedom under the Assad regime.
On that morning I was stopped by a group of members of The National Union of Syrian Students, a sub organization of the ruling Baath Party. They asked about my identification, confiscated my student I.D. card, and dragged me into a small security booth. For almost an hour I was continuously slapped and beaten up. I heard the worst swearing one can imagine, I was threatened with never seeing my family again, and being expelled from the university. They presented me with a sample of the flyers I had distributed before. I was bleeding. I was scared, crying, and screaming. After that, I was then dragged into a civilian car and escorted by two armed individuals in civilian clothes. And my ordeal began.
Prison: “This is not permanent. This will stop.”
I was prevented from seeing where I was being taken. I was led into a building and taken to an underground cell. Within the hour I was blindfolded and told: “Now you will meet the boss; it is time for your interrogation.” The moment I stepped into the boss’s office he started yelling at his men because my blindfold was not tight enough. In that darkness his voice was very scary to me. He asked his men to switch my handcuffs from the front to the back, and I was then seated on a plastic chair. “What about the flyers? Who are you working with?” he asked. I admitted distributing them, but denied any knowledge of others since I did not want to implicate my friends. “It seems that you don’t want to help yourself,” he continued. He picked up an electric stick and started delivering shocks all over my body.
I have no recollection of the period of time during which I was electrocuted; it could have been an hour, or 10 minutes. My mind was focused on one idea: “This is not permanent. This will stop.” He did eventually stop, and he told his men to take me down to the cell and to remind him about me in two weeks. When I objected by screaming “No!” he yelled back at me and threatened me: “Would you like to be raped by my guys?” I yelled again: “No!” But only louder this time.
I was then taken to the underground level and was thrown into a solitary cell. In the cell, it was then when I started to hurt from the electric shocks. My whole body was in pain. I sat down, wrapped my arms around myself, and started involuntarily rubbing my body. I guess I needed to give myself a hug. It helped relieve the pain. The scariest thing was that I did not know what to expect next. I kept asking myself: “If they started with electric shocks and threats of rape, where is this going to end?"
Despite the extensive body pain, the physical pain was incomparable to the psychological agony I had to endure. The voices, screams and cries of men being tortured around me were unbearable. For the next three weeks spent in that hell, the voices of people being tortured continuously echoed. I remember trying many tricks to avoid hearing the screams, to block the pained voices; covering my ears with my clothes, babbling aloud to distract myself from the cries. The screams of agony continued. In the end, I decided to pray for them and for their suffering to end. Those sounds of pain still haunt me to this day.
I still consider myself among the lucky survivors. Looking back now—and after seeing the scope of the regime’s crimes—I feel that my experience is dwarfed by the suffering of other detainees, and the losses and sacrifices of the Syrian people. I feel that my pain was nothing compared to the prisoners I saw through a crack in the door, forced to stand naked for hours in the cold November weather. My ordeal does not compare to the stories of systematic rape, large-scale starvation, horrific torture, and cold-blooded murder that are inflicted upon so many innocent people in my country until this very day.
Fighting Back: “Our crime was that we dreamed of a better future.”
Even though none of the slogans written in my flyers were directly against Bashar al-Assad, I was seen as a threat to the regime and consequently was detained for 23 days. I did not feel safe in my own country and had to leave Syria. In 2012, I moved to Canada and was determined to fight back. I wanted to rebuild what the regime had ruined for me. I enrolled in a university to study psychology and I continued to participate in events that raised awareness about the Syrian people’s struggle, about the Syrian prisoners; especially women and their suffering. The memories of my friends and other prisoners keep me focused and give me the strength to tell my story—their story.
My friends and I were demanding basic human rights, freedom, dignity, and democracy. Our crime was that we dreamed of a better future. We love Syria and we believe that this country and its people deserve and can achieve the best quality of life. We believe in building a country in which all the people are treated equally, respectfully under the rule of law. That is what the revolution was about.
From the beginning, the regime systematically targeted civilian activists, doctors, paramedics, journalists, and community leaders. The regime’s policy has led to an armed conflict that has plagued Syria for four years. The victims of this armed conflict are Syrian civilians and civil society.
I want to make sure that their voices are being heard and their stories are being told—out loud; on behalf of my friend Yahia Shurbaji, a non-violence community leader, who has been in detention in the Air Force Security Intelligence; on behalf of my doctor friend who is still working to help civilians under siege on the ground in Syria.
Syrian people did not start this revolution in a hateful spirit against anyone, but in love for freedom and in pursuit of democracy and dignity. Even today, so many Syrians are still, against all odds, working to achieve that dream.