According to several of our Observers in Syria, the country’s leaders seem to have resorted to a particularly sordid strategy to dissuade citizens from participating in anti-government protests: they arrest, torture, and then release demonstrators with the apparent intention of spreading fear among the population.
This video was made three weeks ago in the north-western Syrian city of Banias. It shows protesters describing how they were beaten and tortured while in prison.
According to several rights groups, more than 8,000 people have been arrested or have gone missing in Syria since the protest movement began in March this year.
"The regime has realised that simply repressing the demonstrations is going nowhere, so it’s playing the fear card"
Nabil lives in Damascus. We have been in contact with him since the beginning of the protest movement.
Last week in Al-Moadamiya, a neighbourhood in western Damascus, the police carried out several arrests. A few days later, on the eve of the huge "Friday of Defiance" demonstration on May 6, they released a number of prisoners who had been tortured. Authorities seem to hope that the marks on the bodies of the freed torture victims will dissuade people from continuing to demonstrate. [The Algerian journalist Khaled Sid Mohand, who was arrested in Damascus on April 9 and released on May 3, also told FRANCE 24 that the Syrian authorities are releasing prisoners who have been tortured in order to scare other demonstrators].
Furthermore, the prisoners themselves are often terrorised after being freed and very few of them remain committed to overthrowing the regime. As for those who have not yet been released, the government seems to be using them as a means of putting pressure on their families.
At the beginning, these practices were more common in Banias and Deraa, where the repression was at its most violent. But little by little, they have spread to all of the towns which have organised protests. It looks like they have become a central feature of the government’s strategy. The regime has realised that simply repressing the demonstrations is going nowhere, so it’s playing the fear card. This Friday will be a decisive moment in terms of seeing how effective this strategy has been."
Article written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira.