Amale Salloum

Tormentors in the victims’ hands

Scenes from inside an opposition-run jail in Homs.
Scenes from inside an opposition-run jail in Homs.
Scenes from inside an opposition-run jail in Homs.

For decades, political prisoners in Syria were held in small rooms, the surface area of which barely exceeded 1.5 square meters. Many died in such jails or grew old in the pitch-dark confines of Syrian intelligence holes.


Then there are the prisons run by the armed opposition, filled with partisans of the Syrian regime. Inside these walls, people accused of committing crimes are being tortured and liquidated by their captors in the armed opposition.

NOW entered one of these jails in Homs’ Bayyada neighborhood.


The first to get locked up in the armed opposition’s jails were Syrian intelligence informants, who were arrested for conveying information about opposition activists since the beginning of 2011, the start of the upheaval against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The regime has long been known for using informants, who are encouraged to report on even their own neighbors and relatives.


One of the armed opposition’s prison cells NOW entered was originally fitted to house rebels but is now home to 11 regime-allied prisoners, most of whom are inhabitants of the neighborhood who are accused of involvement in the death of activists, having reported their names and whereabouts to the security services.

In another cell, NOW found Oum Wafa, a 40-year-old mother of three daughters.


Oum Wafa, which is not her real name, worked in a doctor’s house but was discovered to be an informant working for the air force intelligence in Homs. A decision was made to arrest her and put her in a small room with a bed, a blanket and a few essentials. She could only leave her cell for bathroom breaks, during which she would be accompanied by the group leader.


Oum Wafa was released 15 days later in a swap deal in which the Assad regime let out a female opposition supporter it had in custody.


Another prisoner was a 30-year-old Syrian army volunteer from a Lattaquieh village who was kidnapped on the Damascus-Homs highway by one of the factions fighting in the province in early December 2012.


The prisoner admitted to raping three women during the Syrian army campaign on Homs’ Baba Amro neighborhood last year. He committed his crimes with the authorization of two air force intelligence brigadier generals who were in charge of planning the deadly raid on the neighborhood.


The armed opposition decided to liquidate the young man, as “raping women is an unforgivable crime.”


Kidnappings are not limited to soldiers and informants, as the opposition started abducting key Syrian regime figures, including political officials.

One of the most prominent figures to have been arrested by the opposition is Hussam Mohammad al-Assad, a member of the ruling family and a first lieutenant in the Fourth Brigade commanded by Maher al-Assad. He was arrested in October of 2012 and remained in his cell under the Syrian opposition’s command for four days before succumbing to injuries sustained in battle, according to one of those responsible for his arrest.


Most prisoners held by the armed opposition are not likely to be exchanged in any swap deal between the opposition and the regime. Some are subjected to prolonged investigations to make sure they were not involved in intentional homicides, while decisions are made to liquidate others before arresting them based on information of their involvement in killing civilians.


People who deserted from the state intelligence and security services have added technical expertise the armed opposition with regard to interrogations and doing investigations to prove prisoners’ involvement in murders. However, these dissenters have also schooled the armed opposition on torture methods they used while serving with the regime.


In reality, most prisoners are tortured at least once, though many prisoners are also offered medical care if they come in injured.


Death may also fall on prisoners from above, as regime warplanes often target areas where prisoners are being detained, as they could one day possibly testify on the involvement of regime leaders in war crimes in an international court.


This article is a translation of the original, which appeared on the NOW Arabic site on January 11, 2013

Scenes from inside an opposition-run jail in Homs.

In reality, most prisoners are tortured at least once, though many prisoners are also offered medical care if they come in injured.