Written By Luna Watfa
Translated to English by Diane Lockyer
Luna Watfe’s report follows concerning the first civil plaintiff Feras Fayyad, Syrian documentary filmmaker.
“It will be the first steps to trust the justice system, and trust that whoever died under torture was not forgotten as if he had never been. It will no longer be a place where perpetrators are released with impunity!”
“You who enter here must give up all hope.” The Divine Comedy, Dante.
As the pain sets in there is no reason on earth that we can ever imagine we wish to increase our suffering. Our only wish is that it will cease.
“There is nothing worse than physical pain in this world, and in the face of this pain and its consequences there are no heroes,” George Orwell 1984.
“The one who enters this place is missing and the one outside is born.”
Syrian intelligence institutions produced this saying repeated by society in secret and in public and turned into a long nightmare that has not yet ended.
This is exactly what we had to live with the moment we entered those prisons so we could deal with our bodies inside those places designed to destroy them.
Distinguished Judges, Distinguished Prosecutors, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Lawyers,
My therapist, Dr. KH, who worked for a long time with Holocaust survivors, told me about the impact and meaning of “the Traumatic Memories” through this story that has come to mean a lot to me about the value of speaking:
“As the Allied forces approached Berlin, the SS guards forced the survivors from a concentration camp to walk « with their emaciated bodies » to displace them elsewhere. The survivors were weak in the harsh cold weather out in the open and were forced eventually to eat parts of the tree trunks to survive, and yet they did not forget to hollow out their memories on their trunks. Those trees continued to grow steadfast and protected the traces of the bodies of the survivors engraved on their trunks until now, and they will remain as long as these trees remain.”
And here I stand before you, living an existential dilemma as I have survived. So I ask myself why exactly we survived. What happened and is happening to our colleagues we left behind? What can we do to save them?
I know we really can’t do much but we can continue to relate what we have experienced and not remain silent about it at all costs. Out there in the intelligence branches they have countless ways to harm us where there are over a hundred and forty-nine of them while sixty-two thousand people are waiting for their loved ones who have been kidnapped or caught through the machinations for which the Al-Khatib branch and the Syrian intelligence branches are famous.
The other is as a consequence of their participation in the democratic movement, or as a consequence of exercising their right to expression. Then the stage of denial of their existence begins, and thus the reality of the existence of a human being, then a human group and then a society, is obliterated, thus obliterating the same society and its identity.
Thus, an entire society lives in search of its lost self through the loss of knowledge of the fate of their loved ones and the loss of justice for them.
What is terrifying is that the crime of “enforced disappearance” and “torture” have become an essential tool to display the absolute and unchecked power that the intelligence branches in Syria have used as the core of their very existence, which they bragged about to the world spreading terror to control our daily lives even after our survival.
I was one of those forcibly disappeared and arrested twice. When I was first arrested, I was abruptly kidnapped from an Internet café without being able to finish my final words with my beloved and my friends during our conversation on Facebook about our basic rights in democracy and freedom as demonstrations started in Syria.
The second time, I was kidnapped from Damascus airport because I decided to carry my camera with me and go down to the street insisting on documenting and telling the world what was going on. And yet my body survived and the story survived with it!
Imagine saying goodbye to one of your family members, and the other part of your family is waiting for you on the other side of the airport and suddenly you disappear just like that. They don’t know if you departed, stayed, or decided to stay away from this world, shadows will hang over them as a family, questions will arise as to when, where, and what. The loss, waiting and searching for you will suffocate them.
This is how the regime uses time and waiting to continue torturing us and detaining our progress even when we are outside its prisons, even in our places where we sought refuge.
In “Waiting for Godot” Samuel Beckett says:
« Let’s go!
We can not.
We are waiting!. »
This is what my family lived through for months, and the families of many of the forcibly disappeared are still living today. The dilemma is that kidnapping, enforced disappearance and torture are still going on in Syria, and I know without a doubt that every moment we spend here, there are one or more members of a Syrian family now being dragged away to meet my fate and the fate of those who have given witness here.
I am also certain that the means of torture have increased and developed over these nine years. There are now those who are tormented, suspended between life and death and the perpetrators of these means of torture are still in their places. It is a hurtful feeling that strikes us daily in the heart of the stomach, a terrible feeling that tears the heart apart!
The impact of enforced disappearance leaves a severe trauma on us as a society and on us as victims, even after surviving or revealing the fate of those killed under torture.
Now as I stand before you here at such frigid times here in Germany, as though I were there in Damascus, and particularly underground where the coldness of the brute intensifies in the savage detention center, so wet and burdened with our putrid odours, in the Al- Khatib branch.
Almost naked, deprived of any physical ability and psychologically wrecked, like a corpse, with a skinny body hungry and thirsty as a result of deprivation of food and water, I shivered from the cold, I could hardly breathe or perceive the world around me, I was deprived of my freedom of vision and my sense of time was forcibly obscured from me, I completely lost my ability to do anything
There were hundreds of detainees with me, knowing the time, inside the solitary and collective cells crowded with people who deserved a decent life or those who were thrown into the corridors. We covered ourselves with the remains of our torn clothes that resulted from brutal torture. Our families did not know anything about us, as if we were in a black hole or in a parallel world!
There in Damascus, throughout the day and night, the shrieking and screaming that exacerbated the horror and the threat and increased the pain of our inability to help ourselves and or those whose suffering never ceased.
The noise and echo combined with the horrific creaking of cell doors opening and closing; the possibilities of torture or murder under torture; the sounds of cables smashing into bodies; the screams coming from the depths of tormented bodies were a daily threat to our very existence.
So at that time my suicidal desires could not be counted before they could be carried out. I could hear the sound of my executioners approaching al-Khatib branch, even before they opened the door of my cell, to take me to another interrogation and torture session.
“If we are in severe physical pain, or if the pain continues for a long time,” says Schopenhauer. “All we think about is just finding a way to stop this feeling in any way, and that makes suicide so easy.”
On days like that during interrogations, I was asked if I loved “Mr. President Bashar al-Assad.” I knew that whatever the answer would be, I would be tortured. Most of the time, I could still feel it intensely as night fell.
Ladies and gentlemen, I was helpless! I could hardly catch my breath from the heavy blows on my body! As they beat me, they then raped me with something hard, and at that moment I felt like I was split apart! I felt severe pain in the lower stomach, I felt that my head was cut in half from the inside, and I do not know if my screaming had a sound or if it was muted. The feeling of suffocation in my throat or the feeling of vomiting that was prevented due to the absence of any food in my stomach and the helplessness. I had goose bumps accompanied by sweating and a strange, terrible numbness, as a result of which I lost any feeling with my body.
Even now when I see a stick in someone’s hand I feel a mixture of pain in my stomach and severe anxiety accompanied by shortness of breath and difficulty in swallowing with a feeling of heat, sweating and chills running all over my body.
After I got out of prison I suffered from severe infections. I was afraid to deal with the problem as I felt shame, humiliation and helplessness. I felt that something inside me was so badly destroyed and that destroyed thing gave me a strange feeling of insecurity and mistrust and all this made me hate my body.
I often had suicidal desires after I left the prison. Even on the hottest summer days, a feeling of cold would creep in and take me back to that dark and terrifying place where my freedom was taken away and I was unable to accept I was living safely in Germany or sometimes in the United States where I work!
In a moment like that, my sense of safety in geography and places disappears and I cannot believe that I am here and that the reality of this safety is just an illusion or that it is temporary and will disappear. Sometimes I hear whistling in my ears and the sense of where I am and what time it is disappears and I discover that I am in the middle of the street and the light has turned to red. Or I stand for a period of time without realising that time has passed and the traffic signal has changed a number of times.
These feelings have worsened since I came to Germany, but following my own treatment my situation has improved little by little although so much of my potential that I should have been able to put into art and filmmaking has been taken away, or in my social life.
My therapist told me she would stay with me for the rest of my life so at least there would be some way to deal with her in a more peaceful manner.
The world does not believe what we have been through because our shock and our experiences are so horrific it is difficult for them to hear, acknowledge and accept because we are supposed to conform to their perceptions of society.
Just talking about it is seen as a form of weakness or a dirty act by which we are devalued, disrespected and disqualified as normal human beings.
My therapist says that society’s lack of acceptance or denial of our experience is because we represent an image of the world’s own weakness and inability to do something about that tragedy whose existence society prefers to deny, in order to appear as a strong and proud community that is not torn apart due to the victims’ very presence.
On one of those cold days, on a day like today, after one of the interrogation sessions I was told that no one would hear me again and he had all the powers to do whatever he wanted and so I had to tell him everything I knew.
At the same time, I was surrounded by the sounds of beatings, humiliating insults, death threats, giggling, bragging and the voices of my fellow detainees wailing. The aim was to force me to confess that I was making my films as an act of spying for America and France!
Just imagining this accusation was enough to make me feel surrounded with the horror of the idea I would be executed and hung in Al-Marjah Square as a distraction and a disciplinary model for society, or perhaps disappear forever!
That was how I was consumed on a daily basis by my own thoughts!
Anwar Raslan himself said in his statement, in which he admitted I was there, he viewed my file and attributed the reason for my arrest as being in a relationship with “the outsider.” He imbibed the regime’s beliefs that what I had done was a crime deserving punishment as receiving funding for my film tapes from the West was a crime and an achievement. My movie tapes became a crime!
All this was intended as a punishment for me, as a documentary film maker, because I dared to tell that story, and what’s even more, because the story contained scenes that explicitly criticized the Syrian regime. Dictator Bashar al-Assad crashed. I was told in a whisper by a cellmate next to me at the time my sin was great and I would be executed and I had to pray. For me, who had grown up an atheist rejecting the existence of God, I believed only in democracy and the right to freedom and freedom of conscience.
It was beyond me to find a way to believe and pray to this God who watches torture and is silent about it or who participates in it and enjoys its occurrence as it falls on us just as the executioners and their leaders enjoy it too, God is not there or as Nietzsche said:
“God is dead and still dead.”
The truth is that we have one life and the torture devices have robbed us of it, and here in this place we have regained our ability to speak because we are looking for justice by all means, not only to try to overcome what we went through, but more than that complete this one life.
Dear ladies and gentlemen :
After I shared my experience in front of your esteemed body, I was subjected to a horrific campaign of defamation and hatred. Invitations arrived from Anwar Raslan and Iyad Al-Gharib’s supporters; a representative of one of them is even sitting here behind me in these seats and has expressly disclosed my name and personal information.
Thus violating my personal rights, upheld by your esteemed court to me, then, at their urging used to incite people to hate me and pressure me to withdraw my testimony, but also to call for my murder or withhold my right to seek justice.
Trolls were sent out to contact me or the lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, my co-workers and my family to phish recordings of our voice calls, messages or social media posts to intensify hate speech.
It didn’t stop there as they used platforms backed by Qatar and Turkey to spread false and misleading information about me.
As a result, my family has received threats of death and liquidation, and delegates connected in one way or another by relationships which were sent to collect information about me to be used to defame and abuse me and my family. I was forced periodically to change my family’s place of residence for fear of reprisals despite the cost and difficulty of finding housing for them.
There is a page on Facebook run by Anwar Raslan’s relatives called “The Trial of Colonel Anwar Raslan in Germany” where a page is dedicated to the fairness of Colonel Anwar Raslan, the respected Ibn Taldo.
These calls sought to turn me into a person who intimidated witnesses and victims in order to deter them from relating their experiences, confuse them or undermine their confidence in their memories and strip any faith and confidence in the feasibility of this trial and the feasibility of giving their testimonies, trying to turn victims into perpetrators and perpetrators into victims.
This has had a huge impact on my family’s safety and security and has caused real damage to my profession and cost me a psychological and financial effort to confront it.
Yet despite all that, I am here once again. I feel even more willing to continue the struggle and to talk about my experience non-stop, because the cost of silence weighs more on ourselves than actually speaking out.
My psychiatrist told me that acknowledging the severe damage that I have suffered does not give the perpetrators a moral victory. It is rather my silence about the harm I was subjected to that increases the perpetrators’ strength and their persistence in their violations and their achievement of a moral victory by obliging me to remain silence.
The same calls I received also asked for forgiveness for Anwar Raslan and Iyad al-Gharib. They turned them into victims and criticized their trial as a mistake because they were dissidents, or because they were Sunni Muslims, or because they belonged to clan areas or areas targeted by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, or because they….
And yet they were the part that formed the body of the torture regime that was accomplishing their dedicated work for him and for them.
Those calls, specifically the hostile and defamatory calls that were launched against us as victims, did not move me, but rather made me insist that Anwar Raslan did not represent himself!
Rather, Raslan was the direct expression of all the beliefs of the torture regime that developed and continued for decades. He represented the body, mind, and manipulative and executed thinking of Syrian Authority.
Over the decades, the Authority writes and tries to deny and negate our experience, justify and beautify what is happening, looking for any way to influence our lives, the lives of our families, and our social environment to terrorize us and prevent us from speaking out or to undermine experiences.
Throughout the court sessions, Anwar Raslan wrote, refuted, and attempted to undermine individual experiences, and by undermining individual experiences, the experiences of the entire community are undermined.
The system is not only a body that tortures and exterminates or a body that commands torture. The system is also an evil thinker and a dangerous, skilled manipulator. It has always believed that it can profit from this manipulation because it is the full embodiment of experience and talent by practicing its primitive, violent acts. It is this very experience and talent that has disfigured our bodies; It is the education that Anwar Raslan talked about in his defense statement, and because of it we are refugees here looking for safety and the rehabilitation of our own bodies.
Branch 251 is a place to educate you, forced with boundless violence to love the regime of Bashar al-Assad and to test the most evil methods on our bodies and the multiple possibilities of death that you undergo.
I have not survived and have not fully recovered from it yet and even now I am still trying and fighting.
I did not care much about the regime’s revenge mechanism, its methods of trapping victims from them, or any stigma they would try to put on me. I knew at the time I was an innocent student travelling between a number of studies and a film maker and I had a dream. I was looking for my future to escape conscription in the army. Running away so that I wouldn’t be a part of it or a picture of it, even for one day!
Now I know for sure there are many supporters of the perpetrators and trolls for their victims who will work hard to find any way to harm the victims, drowning the convicts with their praise, or improving their image by denigrating ours.
Here I will quote Primo Levi, a chemist, writer, and Holocaust survivor:
“To confuse executioners with their victims is a moral disease, a cosmetic affection for the executioners, or an evil sign of complicity. Above all, it is a precious service that is rendered, intentionally or unintentionally, to negate the truth and merit of the trials, and this service is indeed no less vile than the crimes of the criminal himself!”
Ladies and gentlemen judges, public prosecutors and distinguished lawyers
I started my work as a filmmaker before the beginning of the democratic revolution in Syria and continued during it. Making documentaries critical of the regime in general has always been considered an unforgivable crime, and we have always been criminalized as filmmakers as a consequence of making cinematic tapes that hold them accountable and expose the flaws of the authorities and society. This is matched by calls to destroy our reputation and people’s trust in the content of our tapes in order to prevent them and prevent us from continuing to act as dangerous people to be eliminated or humiliated and disciplined.
I must point out that during the last period, the Syrian regime forced the father of one of the characters in the Al-Kahf movie to appear in its official media to deny the content of the document and incite against us. The political and media advisor to Bashar al-Assad, Buthaina Shaaban, wrote an editorial under the title “The Most Dangerous War” on the most powerful Syrian newspaper in the Syrian regime and another affiliated with Hezbollah, and this has not happened before!
Here is a major figure in the regime mobilizing everything against a filmmaker accusing me of running a room in the West to fabricate events in Syria as Ms Shaaban concludes her speech with loud incitement to destroy my reputation!
Over the course of my work as a documentary film maker during the Syrian revolution, I watched nearly 2,500 hours of unspeakable horror and engaged in filming some of them and made tapes that contained clear documents on the ongoing crimes committed against Syrians, from the use of sarin and internationally prohibited gases, to killing civilians and using siege and starvation with direct air strikes targeting White Helmets volunteers and their work centers, to hospitals and shopping centers, and direct targeting of activists. These tapes have always been met with relentless misleading campaigns by the regime or its Russian allies.
The hostile discourses of denial and hate were part of the essence of the torture regime and a direct reason for its existence, and a direct reason to continue to kill or isolate us as filmmakers, even though our tapes, for the most part, are documents of struggle for democracy and exposing human rights violations and social and moral issues in a fractured society that does not want to speak about it. We are only individuals committed to telling what the authorities do not want to hear!
Ladies and gentlemen,
I was witness on the surface of the earth, and below it, in Syria to atrocities that should not be tolerated which are still happening! Because the system that stands behind it and is directly responsible for it is still strong in its place. In a way though that I cannot close my eyes to, I have also witnessed the good deeds that make a positive impact on society and survivors stand behind, these very positive practices that give us an unshakable meaning of sympathy, compassion and belief in clinging to life and there is still faith in the bright side of human beings and gives us confidence we will find justice somewhere on this earth.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Judiciary, Public Prosecution and Lawyers ,
I think of the lawyer, Khalil Maatouq, and I think of my Kurdish friend K.A., I think of my fellow documentaries who survived after arrest or who were killed in order to tell this story. I think of my unidentified forcibly disappeared colleagues, the sounds of their screams, their smells that will not leave me until I die, their ghosts that come to me in my sleep and in my awakening, who gave me a reason to go on, to be here as a body experiencing a bitter experience dug deep into the memory of the body and conscious.
I believe nothing can restore honor to our destroyed bodies or to those families who search for justice every day, but reveal the fate of their disappeared loved ones and consider the institutions that tortured and intimidated us as criminal and terrorist organizations that were dangerous to the world because they perpetuated the tragedy and eroded the moral norms in our society within each one of us.
These places exist to break our will as free individuals and undermine our right to feel our individuality, to make of us a copy of the system that destroys our bodies, as anxious groups burdened with doubt, to obscure our existence behind a dictator’s shadow, so that we are not allowed to be shadows but only to be nothing, unless someone like Anwar Raslan and others accept to be part of these institutions. Then he becomes a part of the dictator’s body like Anwar Raslan and others. These barbaric places and their members who manage and implement evil in them are found to punish us for existence!
Therefore, there must be a strong deterrent for those individuals who formed those institutions of extermination. It will be the first steps to trust the justice system, and trust that whoever died under torture was not forgotten as if he had never been, and that the world has changed and is no longer a place where perpetrators are released with impunity! The absence of a deterrent will make society implicitly accept torture, and with it all evils will be accepted, and all kinds of justifications will appear for those who engage in this evil. The absence of deterrence will be one of the biggest obstacles to building a healthy society.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Judicial and Public Prosecution Authority and Lawyers :
I came here full of confidence and gratitude to the lawyers who represent me in this case, and gratitude to my lawyer in Syria Anwar Al-Bunni and a great and undisputed belief in the usefulness of this trial. They have the opportunity to share their experience, bearing honest thought of them always. I also came here to answer my family and my daughter’s constant questions about what happened before, during, and what will happen after this trial.
I trust your wisdom.