WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
A bone-chilling new report by Amnesty International claims that as many as 13,000 prisoners, most of them civilians believed to be opposed to the government, were hanged in secret at Saydnaya Prison in Syria.
Between 2011 and 2015, every week and often twice a week, groups of up to 50 people were taken out of their prison cells and hanged to death, the report, titled Human slaughterhouse: Mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya prison, Syria says.
According to Amnesty International, the Syrian government is deliberately inflicting inhuman conditions on detainees at Saydnaya Prison through repeated torture and systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care.
“These practices, which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, are authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government,” the report observed.
Hangings at Saydnaya are carried out usually on Monday and Wednesday in the middle of the night. Those whose names are called out are told they will be transferred to civilian prisons in Syria.
Instead, they are moved to a cell in the basement of the prison and beaten severely. They are then transported to another prison building on the grounds of Saydnaya, where they are hanged.
Throughout this process, they remain blindfolded. They do not know when or how they will die until the noose is placed around their necks.
“They kept them [hanging] there for 10 to 15 minutes. Some didn’t die because they are light. For the young ones, their weight wouldn’t kill them. The officers’ assistants would pull them down and break their necks,” said a former judge who witnessed the hangings.
Detainees held in the building in the floors above the “execution room” reported that they sometimes heard the sounds of these hangings.
“If you put your ears on the floor, you could hear the sound of a kind of gurgling. This would last around 10 minutes… We were sleeping on top of the sound of people choking to death. This was normal for me then,” said “Hamid,” a former military officer arrested in 2011.
As many as 50 people can be hanged in one night. Their bodies are taken away by the truckload to be secretly buried in mass graves. Their families are given no information about their fate.
Many of the prisoners said they were raped or in some cases forced to rape other prisoners. Torture and beatings are used as a regular form of punishment and degradation, often leading to life-long damage, disability or even death. The cell floors are covered with blood and puss from prisoners’ wounds. The bodies of dead detainees are collected by the prison guards each morning, around 9am.
“Every day there would be two or three dead people in our wing… I remember the guard would ask how many we had. He would say, ‘Room number one – how many? Room number two – how many?’ and on and on… There was one time that… the guards came to us, room by room, and beat us on the head, chest and neck. Thirteen people from our wing died that day,” said “Nader,” a former Saydnaya detainee.
Food and water are regularly cut off. When food is delivered, it is often scattered over the cell floors by the guards, where it mixes with blood and dirt. The very few who leave Saydnaya often do so weighing half the body weight they had when they arrived.
Saydnaya also has its own set of “special rules.” Prisoners are not allowed to make any sounds, speak or even whisper. They are forced to assume certain positions when the guards come into the cells and merely looking at the guards is punishable by death.
The international community, notably the UN Security Council, must take immediate and urgent action, to put an end to this suffering, Amnesty said.
“The horrors depicted in this report reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign, authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government, aimed at crushing any form of dissent within the Syrian population,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut.