Written By Luna Watfa
Translated to English by Diane Lockyer
Report on a hearing of Anwar Raslan on 25/08/2021 when the court heard the Syrian journalist and YouTuber Firas Al-Shater, who came as a civil claimant and as a witness as well. Firas gave his testimony in German and said he was arrested four times but would only talk about the one related to the Al-Khatib branch.
Mr Firas Al-Shater told the judges that about seven members of the Popular Committees arrested him on 27 June 2012 from the Jaramana area in the Damascus suburbs and took him to an unpainted house in another area. There he was subjected to torture, sexual violence, cigarettes stubbed out on his body and being beaten with batons and health extension bars. He was then taken to the airport road under the illusion that they intended liquidating him. They fired over his head and photographed the situation which made them laugh. He was taken to the Arbaeen branch after a day and a half.
Mr. Firas stayed in the Arbaeen branch for just one day and as he had not eaten any food during the period prior to his arrival, he asked the security officer to bring him food. The officer told him that he would have to clean the rooftop of the Branch first, and that was how the witness was able to make sure that he was in Branch 40 because he could see the entire area from the rooftop. In the evening, he was taken to the Al Khatib branch.
At the “reception”, as the detainees called it, the witness was hit in the face with the butt of the rifle, resulting in a wound on his forehead that he later had to have treated. However, due to the extensive torture he was subjected to during the previous two days, he was in a very bad condition, so one of the officers told him that he would stay there for another day and then he would be transferred to the hospital for treatment and he was placed in a group cell.
Close to this cell, Firas described how a detainee was dying which prompted the other detainees to call the jailers to come and rescue him. The jailers told them to let him die and when he died to inform them so they could come and get him out. Indeed, the detainee died and this was the first body the witness saw inside the al-Khatib branch.
The next day after Firas insisted, he was taken to the Harasta Military Hospital and placed on the sixth floor. The witness saw many patients there, as he told the judges, and added that the rooms were distributed among the security branches on this floor, meaning that the al-Khatib branch room, for example, contained detainees from the al-Khatib branch, and also the personnel guarding it were from the al-Khatib branch.
In Harasta Hospital, none of them had a name so every detainee had to memorize his number when called. On his first day there, while going to the bathroom, the witness saw a child’s body and an adult man in front of the bathroom door. On the following days, he saw the bodies piled on top of each other in the bathroom.
In the hospital, neither Firas nor any other detainee received any kind of treatment or medication, but only torture every few hours by one of the officers, or nurses stubbing out cigarettes on their bodies.
The witness said torture in the security branch is often aimed at extracting information from the detainee while in the military hospital its only purpose is to inflict torture.
The witness remained in the Harasta Military Hospital for about ten days during which he only saw the doctor once and this doctor did not treat a single one of them anyway. In his room in the hospital, one of the detainees died on his bed after he was refused medicine. The security officer confirmed his death by hitting him with a cable. When he did not see any reaction from him, he called the appropriate service and told them to come and take the body. He then sat down and lit his cigarette and started drinking mate, and then the corpse was removed.
After several days, the witness began to feel a little better and was taken back to the al-Khatib branch and put in a group cell larger than the cell on the first day. There were approximately 200 detainees in the cell. In addition to the large number of detainees in this cell, the witness also spoke about how difficult it was finding a place to sit or sleep, and about the sounds of torture that could clearly be heard nearby.
While he was in the al-Khatib branch, Firas was taken back to the al-Arbaeen branch twice for further interrogation. One of them was due to pictures found on his private camera which resulted in his being beaten and tortured once again. After the investigation was completed, he was returned to Al-Khatib branch.
When he was asked about the situation in the al-Khatib branch, he replied that he was interrogated only once, on an upper floor, while he was blindfolded, but he could see a little bit. There, he was taken into the interrogation room where an interrogation with another detainee had obviously just been completed before him. The witness was able to see clear signs of torture on him, and so he expected there would be the same reaction for him after they made him enter. He was interrogated about things he knew nothing about and was not related to anything he expected to be asked about concerning his previous activities in the Syrian revolution. During this interrogation session, he was also subjected to torture, ill-treatment and deprivation of water.
Among the methods of torture that were practiced on the witness, outside the interrogation sessions, his back was burned with melted plastic. A detainee who was in front of him had a plastic bag put over his head and it was set on fire. The detainee was clearly acting out of his mind and yet that did not stop them from torturing him violently.
In the al-Khatib branch, the witness saw how the detainees were hung using the shabeh stress method in the corridor opposite his cell, either with his hands attached to a cable or with an iron clip to the wall to which the detainee was suspended and then hoisted up and beaten. However, he was not personally subjected to the shabeh stress method in al-Khatib branch.
He also saw the German chair in this corridor and confirmed that he had seen two people who were tortured in the German chair and were not able to walk as a result. He also added that he knew about the method of torture in the wheel that usually accompanied the falaqa, flogging the soles of the feet, aimed to extract information from the prisoner, but he also confirmed that he saw detainees who had their nails removed by inserting an iron piece with a hammer.
He also talked about seeing women and children in the al-Khatib branch. There was even one in his cell who was no more than six years old.
As concerned dead bodies in the al-Khatib branch, the witness said that in addition to the first person whose death he had witnessed, he could not say exactly how many dead detainees he had personally seen in al-Khatib branch. Detainees were usually taken for interrogation and then returned with signs of torture and difficulty breathing and many of them later lost consciousness. In the end, they were thrown on the ground and no longer moved.
He noted he had personally seen more than twenty people to whom this had happened but as fifteen of them had their personal belongings inside the cell, and they never came back to fetch them, it was believed they were dead. In some cases the warden would pick them up after several hours, but sometimes it happened during the night and they had to wait until morning to tell the warden, and in these cases the other detainees would confirm his death.
Firas added he had to undergo psychiatric treatment for several years so that he could forget these details otherwise he would not have been able to continue his life and future.
The witness also spoke about the medical care in Al-Khatib branch and said that the injured detainees were called and then taken to a room in the basement where there was a person who would always stand beside the doctor who was responsible for deciding who would be sent to the hospital or not.
The witness neither confirmed to the police nor to the court that this person was the “accused” Raslan, but he had previously told the criminal police that when he saw his picture that it could possibly be him. He also told the judges that he did not remember whether he was the one who sent him to the hospital or not.
The second time that the witness went to the doctor due to open wounds on his shoulder, the person he saw had grey hair and a mole on his face. This time, the person refused him treatment although the wound was infected and blood flowing from his shoulder. Instead, he was beaten when he asked for medicine. Apparently, this was not unusual as other detainees who had spent a long time in the hospital explained it to him they seldom received medicine but rather they were beaten. The person concerned was known to decide to send someone to the hospital only if he were close to death.
W hen describing this person’s position, the witness said that the officers referred to him as “sir.” He used to come to the basement two or three times a week to decide who would be sent to the hospital and who not; his speech was mostly in the form of orders and the treatment was not humane or medical in these cases but only to keep the detainee alive.
The witness described how overcrowding, lack of food and high temperatures, in addition to torture and poor conditions in the cells, led to cases of loss of consciousness and insanity among some detainees, as they acted as if they were talking to someone on the phone, for example. Mr. Firas himself personally encountered a case of insanity when one of the detainees addressed him inside the cell and asked him to open the bathroom door for him because his wife and son were with him.
The witness remained in the al-Khatib branch alone for about twenty days, after which he was transferred to the Kafr Sousa branch, where he was also tortured and interrogated once again but this time he was subjected to the al-Shabeh suspension for two days. He spent a week or two in the Kafr Sousa branch and was subjected to different forms of torture on a daily basis.
Mr Firas was asked about the traces of torture that remained, and he told them that there were some light traces so far on his hands and he was still suffering with some problems with his right hand. He also had pictures of traces that were on his left shoulder as a result of the beating with the cable and on his head.
The witness was released around mid-September, having lost approximately 30kg of his weight during the period of his detention.
At the end of the session, the witness answered all the questions of the parties to the case asked but the defense lawyers focused their questions on the witness’s statements to the criminal police about his relationship with lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, and the extent to which the latter was aware of the witness’s statements before he attended the court. The witness denied their declaration and confirmed that there was an error in the writing. As his statements are in the hands of the criminal police and the criminal police investigator may be summoned to inquire about this matter.