Mediapart: Death song in Palmyra prison… The testimony of a detainee who saw hundreds of prisoners die before his eyes

The Syrian Muhammad Berro escaped the death penalty due to his young age, and miraculously got out of the worst prisons of the Syrian regime after a long journey of terror that lasted for years, during which he saw hundreds of political detainees die before his eyes in Palmyra prison, which they call “the world of death and madness.” And here he is finally recounting what cannot be His description, in an essay on torture and execution, can be both difficult and shocking to read.

With this preamble, the French website Mediapart was released article In it, he recounted the writer’s journey, which began in Palmyra prison a month after the massacre of about a thousand political prisoners in June 1980, by Rifaat al-Assad, the younger brother of the then President Hafez al-Assad, to participate with his fellow prisoners in washing walls covered with human flesh and hair. After the Revolution Defense Brigades, led by Rifaat, fired fire and grenades through the hatches above the huge cells.

The article – signed by Jean-Pierre Perrin – explained that Berro, now 58, a writer, journalist and director of the Sada Center for Research and Public Opinion in Istanbul, was arrested in 1980 in Aleppo with 7 of his companions, on charges of distributing a publication for the Muslim Brotherhood, although he He was not a member of the group for which Law No. 49 of July 1980, which is still in force, states that anyone who belongs to it “is considered a war criminal and is liable to death.”

long horror journey

“The judge sentenced me to death within seconds. I didn’t have time to open my mouth,” says Prue. Fortunately, he was only 17 years old and therefore does not have this punishment because he is a minor, but his seven friends did not have this opportunity and were hanged.

From this prison located at the gates of the desert, Berro began a long journey with terror, during which he saw death and madness from the cell that he shares with dozens of prisoners, which is located in front of the execution room, to watch from the holes they made in the door the live hangings that took place every Saturday and Wednesday weekly, before to become one time.

The gallows in Palmyra was not vertical but horizontal. “Days of execution, the victims who were summoned are gathered in a corner, then the victim is thrown on the ground and his neck is placed in a rope, and after the judge checks the identity of everyone, the rope is tightened while 4 guards fix the body of the torturer on the ground, Then they move on to the next, allowing as many convicts to be executed in the shortest possible time, perhaps 100 in less than half an hour, and Bru likened the movement of bodies as they erect and fall and rise and fall during execution to the keys of a piano.

During the eight years he spent in Palmyra, before being transferred to Sednaya prison, near Damascus, Berro witnessed 70 executions before his eyes, and his memory recorded the names of the most ruthless judges and officers, such as Suleiman Atib, the judge who asked a father to choose which of his sons to be hanged, The father finally succumbs to blackmail, but without fulfilling the promise to have his two sons executed, and he dies a few days later.

In Palmyra, many people die under torture, for which three sessions a day are held as if it were a meal, not counting the beatings carried out by the guards during the twice-weekly call to shower. kilometer between guards beating them.

There, Berro documented very accurately what the executioners used, such as batons, chains, braided wires, whips, belts a meter long and two centimeters long and conveyor belts for tanks. They also use huge blocks of cement to crush the chests of prisoners, and everything in Palmyra is an excuse for torture, even going to the hairdresser.

blood trance

The former prisoner classified the guards and the social tormentors, as he saw that the officers and non-commissioned officers are professionals, while the soldiers are conscripts, and many of them are chosen during the first months of training at the beginning of their military service, where the most insidious and ferocious are identified, and are subject to brainwashing, and often choose among For those of their families who were killed by the Brotherhood, their desire for revenge would be great, says Berro.

Training for this role ends with a “blood baptism” in which the executioner pours out all his anger on a specific detainee for 3 hours, and this “training in Palmyra is mandatory for every future prisoner. It is stressful even for the executioner who gets tired after 10 or 15 minutes of beating, so Other jailers encourage him and pour water on him, and the goal is to beat his victim until he reaches orgasm, and the death of those who torment will make him reach this orgasm, to be merged into a group of other executioners who preceded him, as the former prisoner says.

In fact, the evils of this “torture industry” have no limits, says Berro, “In each session the prisoners run to choose their torturers from among Alawites and Christians, not from Sunnis, because they fear that they will be monitored more because of their religious affiliation, and therefore they will be more horrible with them.” Executions are decided by the president orally, and his defense minister, Mustafa Tlass, signs them one by one, and he complained in his memoirs “The Mirror of My Life” that it could reach 150 per week.

During the years of detention, Berro collected extraordinary stories of courage and humanity, but they all end badly, such as Sergeant Ahmed al-Sibai, who was showing some sympathy to the prisoners. May God find a way out for you, boys.” But his leniency made him exposed and accused of “betraying the homeland.” Dozens of the Sanctions Brigade came and rips him apart, and he dies within an hour.

Executions under the camera

And if the vast majority of the detainees in Palmyra are from the Muslim Brotherhood, then there are also officers in it who opposed the Assad family. Berro identified 180 of them, including 22 fighter pilots, one of whom was executed because he said he dreamed of a coup. As for this officer named Abd al-Razzaq, who was opposed to Rifaat al-Assad, he The jailers enjoyed killing him slowly by summoning him to execution, which they postponed each time to the last moment, delaying it 40 or 50 times.

All executions are carried out under the watchful eye of two video cameras that also record some scenes of torture. The videos are directed – according to the author – to the presidential palace, then the detainees who died under torture or were executed are buried in mass graves dug in the desert, 10 kilometers from Palmyra.

“The regime, which did not rule out its overthrow in 2011, sent bulldozers to exhume the bodies in order to hide evidence of the execution,” which took place in 1993, says the living witness, who conducted extensive investigations into prison conditions after his release. However, the number of detainees in Palmyra doubled after 2011, Berro adds. What has changed in the prisons is the number of prisoners, which has multiplied 3-4 times.” It moved from 7-8 thousand to 70,000 in Palmyra.

The former prisoner warned that torture in the same way as before is no longer possible with the multiplication of numbers, so it takes place in cells, dormitories, dining rooms and toilets, that is, in every place where the prisoner and the prisoner meet, knowing that some prisons are secret and others are in hospitals or anywhere.

After Palmyra, Berro spent another 5 years in Sednaya, where left-wing activists are mainly imprisoned, and was not tortured there. It took him years to get out of Syria and then he resolved to testify in writing, saying, “With every paragraph, I cried like a child.”

For his part, researcher Salam al-Kawakibi, director of the Arab Center for Research and Political Studies in Paris, says that there are indeed books on torture in Syria, such as “Al-Sadafa” (La Coquille) by Mustafa Khalifa, but it contains an element of fiction, and it is therefore not real, and therefore the book Bro is unique, and no one has documented the Syrian prison system like he did.

With Rifaat al-Assad’s escape to Damascus, one of the worst war criminals has fled justice, at least because of the negligence of the French police, or even an arrangement between French intelligence and other intelligence agencies.

war criminal escape

As for Rifaat al-Assad, they used to call him “the leader” in prison before his name became among them “the Lord” and before his relationship with his brother the president worsened, and this turned into an open war in which he was the loser, after which he was forcibly exiled in France, after an arrangement with al-Assad Which gave him a huge fortune to push him to leave, which, along with other sources of income, would enable him to own a huge real estate empire over the years, which he would then develop in Spain and the United Kingdom.

Rifaat al-Assad continued to possess this fortune estimated at 90 million euros in France until his conviction there on June 17, 2020, to 4 years in prison in the context of the “illegal assets” case, especially with regard to money laundering in an organized gang, and he was convicted with the confiscation of his property, which is what Confirmed by the Court of Appeal on September 9, 2021.

But al-Assad’s brother escaped before being imprisoned, and the Swiss judiciary is also pursuing him on charges of “war crimes”.

Shortly after his conviction, his arrival in Damascus was announced. According to Syrian lawyer Anwar al-Buni, a refugee in Germany, Assad’s brother “left on a private plane from Marbella in Spain, via Belarus, and was led by a Lebanese singer close to Hezbollah.”

With Rifaat al-Assad’s escape to Damascus, one of the worst war criminals may have fled justice, at least due to the negligence of the French police, or even an arrangement between French intelligence and other intelligence agencies, according to Mediapart.

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