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AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition. Being A Human Rights Activist in Syria. January 22, 2009 Dr. Radwan Ziadeh Reagan- Fascell Fellow National Endowment for Democracy (NED). MAP OF SYRIA. Damascus: the oldest continually inhabited city in the world
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Being A Human Rights Activist in Syria
January 22, 2009
Dr. Radwan Ziadeh
National Endowment for Democracy (NED)
Modern state established by French Mandate after World War I
Independence in 1946
Democratic institutions functioned intermittently until Ba‘th Party seized power in 1963Creating the Modern Syrian State
Emblem of the Ba‘th Party
Ba‘th Party co-founder Michel ‘Aflaq
Structure of Syrian totalitarianism = Three-sided pyramid leading to President Hafez al-Asad
Ba‘th Party Military/Intelligence
State of emergency imposed in 1963 remains in force for over 45 years, allegedly to ensure political stability and “national security”
"Life in Tadmur is like walking in a minefield; death can come about at any moment either because of torture, jailers' brutality, sickness, or execution.“
—Former Detainee in Tadmur Prison
“Mustafa Khalifa's recently published work, Al-Qawqa‘a[The Shell] (2008) is one of the first novels dedicated to the story of a detainee's imprisonment in Tadmur. Detained himself from 1982 to 1994, the author presents the story of a seemingly apolitical protagonist who returns to his homeland after studying film in Paris and is arbitrarily detained. Musa is arrested upon arriving at the airport, brutally tortured at an interrogation center of the military security service, mistakenly placed with detainees who are members of or suspected members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and then sent to the ‘desert prison.’”Al-Qawqa‘a(The Shell): A Memoir-Novel of Tadmur Military Prison
Source: ShareahTaleghani, Syrian Studies Association Newsletter, 2009
“Musa is never sentenced by a court, and he is never placed on trial, but he will spend twelve years in the desert prison. He is however, sentenced to silence by his fellow detainees, when he is overheard telling his torturers that first, he is a Christian and then declaring himself an atheist and therefore in no way affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.”Al-Qawqa‘a(The Shell): A Memoir-Novel of Tadmur Military Prison
Souce: ShareahTaleghani, Syrian Studies Association Newsletter, 2009
“He tells of the ‘reception’ the prisoners receive upon their arrival t o the prison: each is forced to drink the putrid filthy water from a sewage drain. Those who resist are beaten to death. Those who drink are treated to more torture or ‘hospitality’ as the guards call it. Day after day, the torture continues. Daily activities can bring arbitrary death. He describes the ‘breather’ or break where prisoners are routinely whipped, lashed, and beaten. He recounts how prisoners were not allowed to raise their eyes towards their jailors. He recollects the warden coming into the cell and randomly executing fourteen of his cellmates because of a threat he received in the outside world. He witnesses the weekly execution and trials of inmates in the courtyard through a tiny hole he discovers in the wall of his communal cell. He also methodically describes daily aspects of prison life—surviving the baths, illicit prayers, the confining, airless dimensions of the mahja', the brutal shaving of prisoners heads and faces, the secret forms of communication between prison cells, the innovative modes prisoners use to treat the sick and wounded when deprived of medical care, and the myriad forms of resistance that detainees develop despite the ever looming threat of death.Torture in Syria
1998: I began my involvement with human rights work by authoring a book on human rights in the Arab world, The Situation of Human Rights in the Arab World, which has been banned in Syria.My Story: Being a Human Rights activist in Syria
National Dialogue Forum (Montada Al-Hiwar Al-Watani)
RiadSaif, WalidBunni, FawazTello, ‘ArefDalila, and KamalLabwaniDamascus Spring
The Damascus Spring,
The Intellectual Against the Authorities, Radwan Ziadeh
During the Damascus Spring, I joined forty other activists to establish the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS)
I became first editor-in-chief of Tayarat (Trends), published by the HRAS
Tayarat banned in 2002; three members of editorial board brought before a military courtHuman Rights Association in Syria;Tayarat
I was subjected to dozens of interrogations by both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior.
During 2004, I was among a group of Syrian intellectuals and human rights activists who formed a group to work on the Damascus Declaration for Democratic and National Change,released on October 16, 2005.
“This is the last time you will visit as a guest!”
Me in a traditional Damascene house
Damascus is famous for its Yasmin (Arab Jasmine)
January, 2009: I was informed by Mohannad Al-Hassany, head of the Syrian Organization for Human Rights, that the immigration office had obtained information by bribery from someone at the Ministry of the Interior:Arrest warrant
An order of arrest had been issued against me.
Syrian State Security Services initiated a series of arrests on December 9, 2007, rounding up more than 40 Declaration activists in various cities across Syria. These arrests are a direct violation of the activists' rights to freedom of expression and association.
‘Aref Dalila: Dean of Faculty of Economics at Damascus University; a prominent academic and pro-democracy advocate. He served a ten-year prison sentence imposed in 2001 for criticizing the government. In prison, he suffered a severe stroke and was reportedly denied proper medical care by the prison authorities.‘ArefDalila: Academic Freedom
Journalist and activist ‘Ali ‘Abdullah, withhis son, in prison; A member of the Committee for the Revitalization of Civil Society in Syria. ‘Ali ‘Abdullah has been jailed three times in the past 13 years. One of his sons is serving a five-year sentence for his involvement in a pro-democracy youth group. The other chose exile, having already spent six months in jail.Waves of Repression
Trial: Sentenced by exceptional state security court in 1975 to life sentence
Torture: During interrogation, suffered from: whippings, removal of finger nails, beatings of genitals, electric shocks to the nose and ears, cigarette burns, and hanging from the ceiling (sometimes for days)
As a result, he suffered from Spondylisis, which developed quickly as a result of lack of proper health treatment. In addition, he had high blood pressure, an ischemia heart, but he was still kept in prison.
Released 29 years later: Spondylitis in advanced stage with rigid neck at angle from vertebral column; Barely able to walk
Doctors said his situation couldn’t be treated in Syria, but government banned him from traveling
He decided many times to try to kill himself, but finally he died two weeks ago after a long life filled with painFares Murad
Kamal al-Labwani: Head of the Democratic Liberal Gathering, was sentenced to jail for “inciting foreign states to attack Syria” and spreading news that would result in weakening of national moraleKamal al-Labwani
Exceptional trials in state security and military courts continue to be used as a common means to punish independent voices and opponents of the ruling regime. Advocates of reform, and democracy and human rights activists have also remained a target of increased repression. Reform figures are banned from traveling abroad and continuously persecuted. The government also continues to outlaw non-governmental associations and other organizations.state security court
"It's a kangaroo court providing judicial cover for the persecution of activists, and even ordinary citizens, by Syria's security agencies. Defendants have no chance of defending themselves, much less proving their innocence against the bogus charges brought against them.“
—Human Rights Watch Report"The State Security Court is one of Syria's main pillars of repression"
In the name of protecting “national sentiment,” the SSSC jailed more than 100 people last year.