Centre For Theoretical
Civil Rights Studies.
From an Oasis to a Barbaric State
Syrian people boast one of the oldest civilizations. Throughout history, their
civilization was very prosperous. They left a legacy to the whole of humanity.
The Syrian made multiple contributions to the development of the humanity, these
contributions include, but certainly are not limited to, the discovery of
agriculture and the first alphabet in the history of mankind.
The Syrians left a special touch on all what surrounds them creating
their own world uniquely characteristic to Syria.
Syrian have their daily life laws and the morality drawn from the religious
legislation, which was the result of the meeting of many civilizations in
Greater Syria or “El Cham”.
or (Tadmur in Arabic) rose to existence as a flare of civilization in this
humanitarian and advanced context. This special position of Tadmur was the
result, of the brave resistance to the Roman Empire’s aggression against the
Orient. Palmyra had the heroic Queen Zenobia, who was aware of the civilised
role of her people in resisting the Roman Empire.
tradition, Plamyra with its ancient civilizations presents a magnificent picture
of the Syrian life. Yet, this has not been the case over the past three decades,
particularly for the Syrian people. The West knows Palmyra as an ancient oasis
of civilization. But, Plamyra is
horrifying in the minds of the Syrians nowadays.
Palmyra, to Syrians, has become associated with the most notorious prison
in modern Syria, the Tadmur Prison. Palmyra
represents a mass grave for those brave and patriotic souls searching for
freedom and struggling against a repressive and brutal regime. The repression
and unlimited brutality at Tadmur Prison cannot be described adequately in
in Syria are numerous, and varied in capacity and circumstance of brutality.
They have become a grim phenomenon of modern Syrian life perpetuated by a
brutal regime. This regime started with the cease of power by Al Baath Arab
Socialist Party, which made prisons in Syria like death from which no one can
rise of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement disconnected the Syrian society and the
government alike in the early 1980s. With this rise, came to prominence the name
of the notorious Palmyra Prison, the “Tadmur Prison”. Before 1980, the
prisoners were made up mostly of military personnel who violated military rules
or were punished for misdemeanor, such as absconding or other serious crimes.
the increasing military activity of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement and the
political and social turmoil that abound in the country, Palmyra shifted from a
mere prison to a demonic place that operated outside any human norms.
It was associated with the first bloody and grisly massacre committed by
the Syrian regime. This massacre was in retaliation for failed assassination
attempt on the life of late Syrian president Hafez Al Assad in June 1980. Some
of his own guard tried to kill him while he was coming out of the Ummayad Mosque
in Damascus’s Old City. [All the guards were executed indiscriminately without
trials.] A few days of the assassination attempt, the regimes numerous security
agencies committed the largest massacre of its kind in Syria’s modern history
with the exception of Hama’s massacre. According to personal testimonies,
hundreds to thousands of unarmed people were killed in cold blood. Units of the
elite Defence Brigades gathered unarmed prisoners and shot them in the back of
their heads and buried them in mass graves that remain secret until today. This
elite Defense Brigades was under the direct supervision of Hafez Al Assad’s
brother and partner in power Rifa’at Al Assad. Rifa’at Al Assad lives a very
lavish life in Europe nowadays.
massacre was repeated several times in June 1980 when hundreds of prisoners were
shot in the back of their heads and were buried silently by bulldozers without
their mothers being able to shed the tears on them and without tombstones. This
is how Palmyra Prison became one of the most notorious prisons in the world.
Much like the Nazi concentration camps.
prisons commenced their modern era when groups of political prisoners started
arriving at Palmyra Prison in early eighties. Estimates in 1984 put the number
of political prisoners at 14,000, at the time when the total Syrian population
numbered around 14 million, making the ratio of political prisoners to the total
population at 1/1,000. Moreover, these estimations ignored the temporary
major political streams of the political prisoners included the Muslim
Brotherhood Movement, the Pro-Iraqi Al Baath Arab Socialist Party, the Syrian
Communist Party-Politburo and its allies the National Democratic Congress, Al
Nasseri Popular Organisation- Socialist Union, the Workers Revolutionary Party,
Communist Action Party, the Popular Committees, the Popular Committees, the
Committees for the Defence of Political Liberties in Syria, and any opposition
to the policies of the ruling regime. There were many prisoners of non-Syrian
origin such as Lebanese, Palestinian, Jordanian, Iraqi, Algerian and Sudanese
following is a description of Palmyra Prison according to the testimonies of
prisoners who spent ten years or more detained inside the prison. The prison
looks like a housing complex of two divisions, one for military prisoners who
committed some misdemeanors during their military service and one for political
prisoners, who are the topic of this article.
the management is the same for both, the two divisions are separated from each
other. The prison is supervised by the Military Police and agents from different
security departments including the Military Security Service, Political Security
Service, State Security Department, Air Force Intelligence Service as well as
the most ill-famed Colonel Faisal Ghanem who was tried in a field martial court.
Ghanim supervised the prison for many years since 1979.
prison consists of complex of buildings separate from one another to make their
supervision easier and to prevent prisoners from free communication. Each
building has two dormitories, one small and one large with solitary confinement
cells and a small uncovered yard for breaks when prisoners were allowed to leave
their dormitories. These yards have high walls and electrified barbed wire.
Large Dormitory: The same
conditions apply to the small dormitory but with a difference in the day-to-day
life routine. The dormitory is a 40-50 square metre room (12 m by 4.5 m),
originally built for around eighty prisoners although it typically housed many
more. The dormitory is built three to four steps below the ground level and have
no windows except a round window in the ceiling covered with metal bars. The
warden, usually a heavily armed military policeman, looks inside the dormitory
through this window. The dormitory also has one water closet and a small
corridor near the bathroom.
ten cells lie in the back of the dormitory for solitary confinement. Each one of
these cells looks like a stony casket measuring 2 m by 0,70 m without a
water-closet, ventilation, lights, or seats.
There is a small slit at the bottom of the door, which opens only when a
prisoner is given food or water if allowed.
before their arrival at the town of Palmyra, prisoners are blindfolded.
The thickness of the blindfold varies from one prisoner to another. In
some cases, it is ten layers thick and the prisoner is ordered to wear it when a
prison official comes so that he cannot see who is torturing him.
arrival at the prison, as a “welcoming gesture”, prisoners are tied to an
old tire and whipped with 400 lashes. The whip is made of four copper cables
twined together. After this brutal ritual, a prisoner’s mustache is plucked,
as if to take away the last sign of his oriental manhood. From then on, he will
be treated as an insect that deserves to be trodden by shoes. Following this,
the prisoners who can tolerate more torture (according to the wardens’
judgment) are divided and unleashed upon by “expert wardens” for more
torture, while the prisoners who have become marginally broken are sent directly
to the dormitories.
prisoner’s daily activities of living become an everyday routine of torture
and humility. During trips to the water closet the prisoner will receive
countless number of lashes from 10 wardens standing over the level of the
prisoners’ heads. Those who walk
slower receive most of the lashes.
same method of torture is applied during the weekly trip to the bathroom. During
the bathroom trip, they give each prisoner a small amount of sulfate. Then they
shave the heads and beards with a blunt razor. The sulfate is used only as a
disinfectant to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. After the shaving,
prisoners are splashed with cold water to clean their dirty bodies.
Then they will return to their cells or dormitories.
those prisoners who would be executed would be called by their names by the
wardens. When a prisoner is called by his name, this means, according to prison
rules, that his end has come and he will be taken to stand in front of the
execution squad. His friends, who are close-by, will hear the firing of the
guns, which marks the end of another life.
who are destined to spend their time in the dormitory get one blanket and a
thick cloth under them when they go to sleep. The space is so tight the
prisoners can muster only to sleep on their sides. They have to go to sleep
sharply at nine o’clock p.m. and awake by seven o’clock a.m.
The prisoners have to wrap their blankets and the thick cloth in the
morning, and set on them with their legs tied close under their thighs.
It is prohibited to walk inside the dormitory except to the water closet.
a voice is heard in the dormitory, a warden throws a piece of wood on the floor
and the one who made that voice has to pick up the piece and get out of the
dormitory by seven in the evening. He
will then be punished with 200 lashes.
a prisoner will randomly be picked and appointed as the chief prisoner in each
dormitory. His main role is to name prisoners who make noises in the dormitory.
He will be punished if he fails to name the prisoner who made the noise
or if that prisoner has a weak body.
life in the prison is monotonous, boring, killing and inhumane. Torture starts
shortly after wake-up time and ends at bedtime. The day starts with tidying the
blanket, cleaning the dormitory, the water closet and the bathroom. This is
followed by breakfast time, then cleaning the dishes and throwing the garbage.
the prison’s management allows prisoners a break, they go out for half an hour
to an uncovered yard that is similar to the tombs of ancient Egyptians.
Prisoners have to walk in circles and keep silent with their heads down since
prison rules do not allow prisoners to look at the wardens or the prison
is given to prisoners at ten in the morning and its consists of three small
loaves of flat bread as a daily ration with a little amount of yogurt, potatoes,
jam and olives for breakfast and dinner. Food rations are not enough to feed
more than a quarter of the prisoners in every dormitory.
consists of burghul (cooked crushed wheat) or rice with a reddish liquid that
does not contain any vegetables or meat. Apart from the bad preparation of food,
it is always cold which causes the prisoners many health problems such as
heartburn that may develop into a permanent ulcer in the stomach.
common illnesses in the prison include chronic constipation, heartburn, stomach
ulcers, colitis, skin diseases, prostatitis, anemia, malnutrition, eye diseases,
psychological, and neurological disorders as well as paralysis or numbness in
the limbs due to the torture during the initial interrogation or loss of a sense
prisoners suffer from deep laceration to the feet and legs and deformities in
nails and feet. The torture by electrocution or other means will leave scars and
chronic bruises; often they target the genitals.
at Palmyra Prison also become victims of sexual assault through brutal rape or
sodomy, such as inserting glass bottles into the rectums.
at this notorious prison do not allow doctors to visit prisoners and prisoners
are not allowed to call for a doctor, this is punished by 200 lashes.
and family visits are not allowed at the prison, except some isolated cases when
families pay large bribes to the prison officials. It has been reported that
Director of Palmyra Prison Faisal Ghanim will allow ten minutes visits after his
mother had received a piece of jewellery worth tens of thousands of Syrian
pounds from the prisoner’s family.
members of the prisoners usually become victims of extortion by the prison
official. Many families are asked
to pay thousands of Syrian pounds in forms of bribes to prison officials or “a
big government official” just to now what was the fate of their relative.
following are some of the names of prisoners who lived with me at Palmyra Prison
for 13 years and waiting for your support in pressurising the Syrian government
to release them:
Abdullah Qabbarah, Syrian Communist Party-Politburo, jailed since 1987 and
sentenced for a 15-year jail term by the Supreme State Security Court and
expected to be released by 2002. He is suffering from anemia, diabetes and acute
psychological and neurological disorders.
Aram Karabet, Syrian Communist Party-Politburu, jailed since 1987 and sentenced
to 13-year jail term by the Supreme State Security Court. He is expected to be
released 2000. He is suffering from psychological disorders.
Ammar Rizq, Communist Action Party, jailed since 1992 and sentenced to a 12-year
jail term by the Supreme State Security Court. He is expected to be released
2004. He is suffering from acute heart problems and respiratory system
disorders. His overall general health condition is very critical.
Mazin Shamseen, Communist Action Party, jailed since 1992 and sentenced to a
15-year term by the Supreme State Security Court. He is expected to be released
2007 and is suffering from nervous tension and arthritis.
Juryus Al Talli, Communist Action Party, jailed since 1992 and sentenced for a
15-year old term by the Supreme State Security Court. He is expected to be
released 2007. He is suffering from
arthritis, weak limbs and acute nervous disorders.
Mahmoud Eassa, Communist Action Party, jailed since 1992 and sentenced to a
10-year term by the Supreme State Security Court. He is expected to be released
2002 and he is suffering from stomach pain and acute psychological disorders.
Nu’man Abdou, Communist Action Party, jailed since 1992 and sentenced to a
12-year term by the Supreme State Security Court. He is expected to be released
2004. He is suffering from a rupture in the knee and a bleeding wound in his
right leg that is paralyzed from the knee down.
prisoners were arrested by the Political Security Department and spent periods
of their jail terms at Adra Prison in Damascus before being transferred to
Palmyra Prison on December 12, 1995.
far all of them have been denied family visits, money or health care. They are
suffering from extremely harsh living health and psychological conditions, as
described by the last prisoner released from Palmyra Prison. He is Palestinian
journalist Salameh George Keileh who spent eight years in that prison.
is noteworthy that most prisoners are not released at the end of their jail
terms, sometimes, as in the case of prisoner Yasseen Al Haj Saleh, they spend an
additional year at the end of their terms behind bars.
current director of the prison Colonel Nedhal Mahmoud carried out repressive
measures and reneged on promises to allow family visits to prisoners.
us all raise our voices aloud to end this tragic chapter and call for the
immediate closure or destruction of this prison, which remains as a mark of
disgrace in the face of the Syrian regime.
us call for the release of all political prisoners or make them stand before a
fair civil court.
us call for political liberties as guaranteed by the Syrian constitution, and
work hard for the revival of political life and open all files before the
people, particularly the settlement project according to the American-Israeli
us call for democratic freedom to be carried out in all national parties as the
first step to overcome the social, economic and political disintegration of the