Voices from Syrian Prisons
Posted on January 17, 2014 by WITNESS
Editor’s Note: This is the first in an occasional series highlighting videos from Syria’s diverse civilian movements. The series is a collaboration between WITNESS’ Human Rights Channel and Syria Untold.
By Syria Untold
“I wanted to send this letter to my family, but I don’t know where they are.”
Those are the words written by an unnamed Syrian inmate. “I heard everyone in the area is gone and there is nothing left but destruction. I’m afraid something might have happened to them, and when I think of that, all the terror I’ve been put through pales in comparison.”
We don’t know if this letter found its way to his family, but it has found a larger audience through “Steadfast,” a campaign to make the voices of Syrian prisoners of conscience heard.
Launched by the Syrian Nonviolence Movement and Voice of Detainees, the idea came from a former prisoner of Bashar al-Assad´s jails, who decided to recount the stories heard from inmates. The initiative turns the experiences, fears, and dreams of Syrian prisoners into audio and video clips narrated in first person and uploaded to be shared with the world. They are based on accounts of former detainees, and on letters written by inmates and leaked by prison officers moved by their suffering.
Abuses Behind Bars
Voices in the series describe the physical and psychological trauma prisoners undergo, as well as their means of finding dignity and mental strength in detention. “These voices are crucial to understanding what is happening in the country, and we will do what it takes to deliver them as transparently as possible,” one of Steadfast’s organizers said to Syria Untold.
It is unclear how many Syrians are in detention centers, but according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, tens of thousands of Syrians are missing and most likely detained. Because the government will not allow journalists or human rights organizations to visit prisons, it is these accounts of detainees and former prisoners that brings to light conditions found there. Torture and rape are widely reported.
Watch all of the videos from the “Steadfast” series in this YouTube playlist, and learn more about them on the project’s Facebook page (in Arabic). The videos have yet to be translated from Arabic, but the creators are using the open-source subtitling tool, Amara. WITNESS and Syria Untold encourage volunteer translators to help amplify these important voices by subtitling the videos into their own languages. To help, go to the Voice of Detainees page on the Amara website, where the videos have been uploaded and are ready for volunteer translation.
A version of this post originally appeared on Syria Untold, an independent digital media project exploring the storytelling of the Syrian civil movement and its diverse manifestations of artistic and creative resistance.