Middle East
2:04 pm
Wed August 17, 2011

In Syrian Conflict, Tactics Grow Increasingly Brutal

Originally published on Wed August 17, 2011 7:40 pm

Syrian tanks and gunships are attacking neighborhoods in towns and cities around the country that have been hotbeds of anti-government protest, as the government pushes ahead with what's being called a Ramadan offensive.

Activists say the latest, most grisly trend is to detain protesters, torture them to death, then release their bodies for all to see. Activists say of the 70 deaths in detention they've documented so far, nearly 40 have been in the central city of Homs.

In one case, about two weeks ago, two men in Homs had just finished praying at the mosque. One stopped his car and offered another a ride. Witnesses told activists that security forces surrounded the car, ordered the men out and beat them on the head with the butts of rifles. The men were then taken to the local intelligence headquarters.

The body of the first man was returned to his family 10 days later, with cuts and bruises and signs of a beating. The death sparked a massive protest that was caught on video by residents in Homs.

Four days later, the second body was returned to the victim's family. Images of the body show what look like bullet holes and massive bruising. The feet are nearly swollen beyond recognition.

For Some, 'The Fear Is Working'

Omar Idlibi, an activist who documents cases like these in Homs, says authorities aren't using torture to get information anymore. They're using it strictly to promote fear.

"In our culture, when somebody dies, especially when he dies a martyr, we go and see him before he is buried," Idlibi says. "Of course most people, when they see these bodies, get even more angry and want to protest even more."

"But for some," he says, "I have to tell you, the fear is working."

Another center of protest is Hama, where hundreds of people were killed as security forces stormed the city at the beginning of Ramadan.

One activist, who didn't want to give his name for fear of being detained, says he and his friend were on a mission to film the Syrian tanks. He got out of the car. His friend was stopped at a checkpoint.

"They took him, and after that they took three others of my team," he says.

The activist recently got word that his friends are being held at the main intelligence office. He is terrified they'll be killed, namely because they carried satellite phones, which are used to share information with the international media.

The activist has gone into hiding out of fear he will be tracked down.

"I don't know what to do, but I still must hide," he says. "I stopped some of my activities lest I be known."

Detention Still Haunts One Man

Ali Abu Dehn says he knows all too well what these detainees are going through.

A Lebanese citizen, he says he was visiting his wife's relatives in Syria in 1987 when police came to the door and said there was a problem with his car registration. They told him to come down to the station.

"And even they told my wife, just only for five minutes, he will have a cup of coffee, then we will leave him, we will bring him back by ourselves," Abu Dehn says. "And that cup of coffee? You know it kept boiling for 13 years, and I didn't drink it."

For 13 years, Abu Dehn was held in prison and accused of spying for Israel. Five of these years were spent in a kind of concentration camp, where he was beaten, humiliated, hung from meat hooks, and nearly starved to death.

Even though he's free, he says the detention still haunts him. He thinks about it every day. But Abu Dehn says he actually can imagine worse.

"What I faced is nothing," he says, "nothing compared to what they are facing now."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host: There are some grisly reports filtering out of Syria. The government's offensive continues with tanks and gunships attacking hotbeds of anti-government protest. And activists say the latest trend is to detain protesters, torture them to death, then release the bodies for all to see. We should warn you there are some graphic descriptions in this story. Here's NPR's Kelly McEvers.

KELLY MCEVERS: Activists say of the 70 deaths in detention they've documented so far, nearly 40 of these have been in the central Syrian city of Homs. In one case, about two weeks ago, two men in Homs had just finished praying at the mosque. One stopped his car and offered another a ride. Witnesses told activists that security forces surrounded the car, ordered the men out and beat them on the head with the butts of rifles. The men were then taken to the local intelligence headquarters. The body of the first man was returned to his family 10 days later, with cuts and bruises and signs of a beating.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

MCEVERS: The death sparked this protest that was caught on video by residents in Homs. Four days after that, the second body was returned to the victim's family. Images of the body show what look like bullet holes and massive bruising. The feet are nearly swollen beyond recognition.

Omar Idlibi is an activist who documents cases like these in Homs. He says authorities aren't even using torture to get information anymore. They're using it strictly to promote fear.

OMAR IDLIBI: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: In our culture, when somebody dies, especially when he dies a martyr, we go and see him before he is buried, Idlibi says. Of course, most people, when they see these bodies, get even more angry and want to protest even more. But for some, he says, I have to tell you, the fear is working.

Another center of protest is the city of Hama, where hundreds of people were killed as security forces stormed the city at the beginning of Ramadan. This activist, who doesn't want to give his name for fear of being detained, says he and his friend were on a mission to film the Syrian tanks. He got out of the car. His friend was stopped at a checkpoint. He calls it a barrier.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A barrier stopped him and told him to - they checked the IDs. They took him, and after that, they took three others of my team.

MCEVERS: The activist recently got word that his friends are being held at the main intelligence office. He says he's terrified they'll be tortured to death, mainly because they carried satellite phones, which are used to share information with the international media. He himself has gone into hiding.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I don't know what to do, but I must still hide. I stopped some of my activities lest I be known.

MCEVERS: Ali Abu Dehn says he knows all too well what these detainees are going through. A Lebanese citizen, he says he was visiting his wife's relatives in Syria back in 1987 when police came to the door and said there was a problem with his car registration. They told him to come down to the station.

ALI ABU DEHN: And even they told my wife, just only for five minutes, he will have a cup of coffee. Then, we will leave him. We will bring him back by ourselves. And that cup of coffee? You know, it kept boiling for 13 years, and I didn't drink it, really.

MCEVERS: Thirteen years, Abu Dehn was held in prison and accused of being a spy for Israel. Five of these years were in a kind of concentration camp, where he was beaten, humiliated, hung from meat hooks and nearly starved to death. But Abu Dehn says he actually can imagine worse. What I faced is nothing, he says, nothing compared to what they are facing now. Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.