ARRESTED DURING ASSAD'S REGIME
The Arab spring in Syria started in March 2011 with a peaceful demonstration in the old city of Damascus against the sitting Ba’ath regime under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad. The peaceful demonstration was infiltrated by various rebellious and violent groups. This gave rise to several demonstrations and riots all over the country. Some wanted a peaceful political change with free elections and democracy, while others wanted a more stringent regime based on Islamic values. This escalated and ended with what today is known as the civil war.
I had in social media, including Facebook, have been critical of the Bashar al-Assads leadership of Syria. I also had been critical of what was called a democratic choice of he as president. I was critical of the economic situation in Syria, about corruption and the growing unemployment, about the unequal treatment of ethnic and religious groups in the country. In short, I was critical of that a country’s political leadership was going to be able to be inherited, as Bashar al-Assad inherited the presidency after his father Hafez al-Assad. Actually, it was Bashar’s older brother, Bassel, who was to take over the Presidency, but he died in a traffic accident in 1994. In the Syrian legislation, there was a requirement that the country’s president had to be filled 40 years to be able to govern. When Hafez died in year 2000 was Bashar only 35. It was then made an emergency decision of the Government to lower the age requirement of 35 years so that Bashar be able to arise within as president after his father.
I have heard many in Europe wondering over that Bashar had not learned more about democracy and the parliamentary system because he was a trained ophthalmologist in the United Kingdom.This is not quite correct because he was educated at the University of Damascus, a doctor. He started specializing as ophthalmologist in London in just over a year until his brother died. When he was called back to Syria to be taught in the military and later take over as president.
In Syria’s regime under Bashar different ordinal powers like the military, national defense, national and local police. The National Defense (Al Watani Addi-Faa) is a form of a paramilitary force that does not belong to the regime’s military, but is nevertheless a public grouping that has close contacts with the police. They operate on their own and can perform both military operations and police arrests without law and judgment. They are not like a normal Constabulary and was formed after the uprising started in order to maintain peace and order. The national defense came to my workplace in the pharmaceutical company I work in and picked me up. It was in January 2014. I was the leader in business and was in charge of 250 employees. The national defense came in and grabbed a hold of me when I was on the way out of the Manager’s Office after a meeting. I had two mobile phones, where one could be linked up against Facebook and the other not. It without I had on me when they came, the other was located in my Office. A friend of mine, an engineer who was also a colleague, then what happened. He knew that I had criticized the regime on Facebook and went into my Office to see if there was something there NF could find as an excuse to arrest me. He found the phone with Facebook and took care of it. He contacted my family who came and got the phone. He warned them so that they could hide the phone and that they should delete my account on Facebook. My brother wanted to try this, but did not have access to my account on FB. But he knew my user name and new password was provided so that he could go in and block my account so that no one could read what I had written. Surveillance cameras at the Office was on when they came to arrest me. I have got a copy that I have taken care of and that is shown here on my home page.
In the Syrian law says that one can utter freely, also be critical to the national defense. But they don’t care about it. They raise themselves above the law and find pretext so they can arrest people, for example, that a person is suspected to be a spy from neighboring Israel. For my part that I claimed to be working with Al-Nusra front, a Syrian Edition of Al-Qaeda. They fought against the Assads regime and aimed to introduce an Islamist state in Syria. It was therefore quite illogical that I as a Christian should carry weapons for Al-Nusra. If a Christian carrying weapons in Syria, it is most often used to support the regime.
I had gone in the demonstrations against the Assads regime and had written about this on FB. That’s why I today think this was the main reason why I was arrested in addition to that I had written about the fate of a colleague and friend on FB.
He was official in the company, was fleeing from Doma because of the unrest. Doma is a suburb of Damascus, my Department in the pharmaceutical business was located in the suburb of Sydnaya. A site that was known as the Habitat of the national defense. He had been robbed of his money, his wife’s gold and jewelry of members of this group. He was threatened to leave and never come back Sydnaya, if he did they would kill him. He did not come to work for two days, but then he called me and told his story. He also said that he did not have the guts to get on the job when they had threatened him. I described on FB what he had told me, the national defense commented on this and said it was not true.
They also shared flyers in the street and wrote about another man who they said had fallen as a martyr because he had been to combat terrorism. I knew about this man and I knew he did not die as a martyr, he had shot himself. The story of these two men, I believe was the reason why they came and arrested me.
After they took me out of business, they tied for my eyes and put me in a car and drove a short distance. I think it was a farm because then I was led out of the car and into a building, I felt like I went to wood. Which is typical to use in a stable for horses.
I was tortured in what I think was an hour. They kicked and beat me and kept the gun to my head to threaten and intimidate me. A case they used all the time to me, was that I was a good friend of a former driver in the company. He was a moderate Muslim, and his wife was very kind to me, I still have contact with both of them by phone. He lost his job as a driver because he had some problems with to get there on time on the job, forgot appointments and such things. He had several children and his wife was pregnant again. I felt sorry for him and kept contact after he quit the job. Bought gifts for the kids and gave him some money too. The national defense used this against me, since I was a Christian and he Muslim they meant I attempted to make collusion and contradictions between Christians and Muslims. Later when I told my story, I got to know that this was a farm that belonged to Nabil Kahla who was leader of the national defense in the Al-Khalamun region.
When they did not get anything out of me, they had to find on this with that I was a part of Al-Nusra front. They had to have something on me, or they had to let me go. Afterwards I was taken to a remand prison. On the road, we were stopped by a military control post. The national defense had security card and be able to pass checkpoints, but they were asked about who I was when they answered that they suspected me to collaborate with terrorists. Something I denied and said were lies and that the national defense had no arrest warrant for me, they had no documents or something else that gave permission to arrest me. When I was asked to shut up.
I noticed that we were brought down in a basement and when they removed the blindfold, I saw that there was no window in the room. It was a small room of about 20 square meters. There were around 15 other men in the room. There was a toilet without the door, with a tap that we got water from. There I was in four days.
What they did not know or understand was that I always had Muslim friends. I respected their beliefs and they respected min. I was often invited to celebrate Eid, took part in the funerals or other friendly things. Regardless of the faith.
The new prison was a large hall with about 120 other prisoners. The ones I spoke with told different stories about why they were imprisoned. But there was a similarity in that all were opponents of the regime. But there were also followers of the Islamic State, ISIS.
The guards at the prison took my valuables from me. For example, my phone, my jacket and my shoes. My expensive jacket and shoes they took to themselves, they I never got back. The phone I got back when I was released. On it they had removed the battery when I went in, and when I got it back it was still some power so that I could call.
Many of my prisoners had little and very bad clothes. I had to take care of all the time so my clothes were not stolen when I washed myself. But one was able to take my underwear and another my socks. This was in January and it’s cold in Damascus at the time. It may be down to minus degrees and a strong wind that makes it feel very cold. Sometimes it will also snow.
We had a bottle of water that went around the place, I could see the bottle was old and used many times. We got two meals a day, it was most often the old bread which was soaked, sometimes we got the order. When one is hungry, one can eat anything. There was no soap or hot water to wash us, only cold water that made us feel a bit cleaner, but it didn’t take away the old sweat and odor.
Some of my catches had been imprisoned in both the three and six months. These were naturally worried about their families who didn’t know where they were. Such as me. Every time we understood that one would be released, we gave away our phone numbers so they could make a call to our families and tell where we were. My family never received any information about this.
After a few days in prison, I noticed that I got a fever, it must have been high because I froze very, and got the sweats about each other. I had nothing to warm me with, I had heavy breathing and cuffed a lot. I remember little from this time because I was sleeping a lot. But I noticed that I was weak in the body and had little power. For example, I had problem with the turn the key when I got home, I was so weak. There was no one who cared that I was sick, there was no doctor there or others who looked after the health of the prisoners. I saw several who died in the great hall. Some died of the disease, while others died after they had been tortured with beatings and whip.
Eventually I was put on the list of those who were to be interrogated. The investigator was a very pleasant and understanding man. He understood at once that I as a Christian could not have anything with Al-Nusra to do. When it was decided that I was going to be released and could go home at the same time with someone else. We were first transported by car to a garage where it was some old clothes and shoes as we could have on us. I got a pair of shoes that were three number too small, but I was able to push my feet down in them.
Then there was the problem with the entry to the city and the home. I talked with several who had a car, but everyone was going to have a lot of money, something I had not. In the end, it was one that stopped and was a little cheaper and I could pay him when I came home to the family. On the road I told him my story, he was so moved by it that he said that I was going to get a ride for free all the way home. For me this means that I can still have faith in humanity. But I gave him money.
I had gotten back your phone with the offline battery. In the car I got called to my youngest sister and told that I was on my way home. She contacted right away my other siblings who all went from their jobs to take against me. When I got home was my whole big family together. It was discussed my future and they agreed that Rami could no longer be in Syria.
But first I had to deal with my job in the pharmaceutical business. They had already talked about me and had decided that if I still wanted to work for them, so I was going to get it, but they thought it was too dangerous for me in Sydnaya, so they transferred me to the office in Damascus. Sitting in jail was a huge load. I’m normally quite restrained emotionally, but this period put their mark on me. Something I want to go deeper in the next article.