Tag: arrests

On the run

“I never knew I could have such friends here”, he said as we chatted about life in Syria.

“Becoming part of the revolution has opened my eyes to so many people and friends from all walks of life I could have never expected to meet. For 40 years we have been trained to be suspicious of each other, to not trust anyone and keep yourself to yourself. Now all that is changing and it is so exciting, really Sean, to see the crowds getting bigger each Friday is just amazing.”

“I remember the first time I saw a demonstration, I was on a bus travelling through Damascus and saw a small group of women in the city centre demonstrating for Libya, but I knew then that these people were also demonstrating for Syria.”

Having never protested ever in his life, he said something made him get off the bus and that before he knew it he found himself right in the middle of the crowd of women, the crowd kept growing, first from 25 to 50 then from 50 to 100, it was at this point that the security police moved in and tried moving them along politely at first.

“We didn’t leave, this was for Libya we said, but they knew that it was in fact for Syria and they could almost predict what could follow in the country if something like this wasn’t nipped in the bud.”

“They tried to intimidate the crowd by standing in front of each one of us and filming us with their cameras, saying we will find you and you will pay for this. Then one of the women decided we should walk to the Libyan embassy, then the secret police got angry and tried to top us.” In one exchange a woman was hit in the face by an officer, then the order was passed to arrest everyone.

“I could have escaped but the woman next to me caught my attention, she was screaming in the hands of two baton wielding army officers, I reached over to help the woman and the officers grabbed me instead beating me to the ground and pushing me on the waiting bus, fortunately the lady wasn’t taken, but 12 of us were.”

With their heads pushed to the ground in a line in the central aisle of an empty bus they were beaten all the way to the security centre, ‘Traitors’ the officers screamed as they kept on beating them.

When they arrived at the security centre they were greeted by a general who in an obvious change of tactic was very apologetic about the treatment they had received and explained that the ‘patriotic’ officers mistook them as traitors. Then they were asked to never do such a protest again otherwise next time they would receive serious punishment, they had to wait an hour for their phones to be returned, it is thought all their contacts and messages had been copied, “And then we were free. This was my first experience of protest in my life”.

A few days after his arrest he received a telephone call to meet with a secret-police officer, the officer wanted him to ‘help’ track and find the people behind the protests, the ringleaders.

He didn’t know what to do and anyway he didn’t really know any of the organisers… But facing such a dangerous dilemma – what could happen if he refused to help the security services? he went to seek advice, and, for the first time, arranged to meet some of the protest organisers. They advised him to no longer answer calls and, like most of them had been forced to do, start to move from place to place, never staying in one house for too long. Since then he, like most of the protesters here, has been living a life ‘on the run’.

“It will change won’t it?” he asks me in a lost moment of insecurity, I say I hope so, and that I cannot see Syria ever being the same as it was before the protests started. But there is a niggling doubt I have, as I do with Yemen, that these guys in charge have more to lose than their pride, and because of that more blood will be shed before an end is in sight.

As night falls the front door opens and Ali (whom we have been waiting for) finally arrives… and although they have been Facebook friends for some time he has never actually met the friend I have been passing the time with in person – they immediately give each other a brotherly hug and kiss.

I hadn’t seen Ali for 4 days, and neither had his kids… As the protests against the government continue, and his ‘life on the run’ intensifies, Ali faces having to move out of his house and away from his kids completely, leaving, with the help of his extended family, his eldest son to look after his 4 year old brother until it is safe for Ali to return.

The kids come running excitedly to embrace their dad, and a fleeting moment of fondness is taken before Ali quietly leaves the house again. As the children play I watch from the window as Ali and his friend turn the corner and disappear into the Syrian night.

Rumour + Truth = Paranoia

When Ali’s friends were arrested by the security forces the first thing they demanded to know as they beat them was what was their Facebook password.

Rumours are rife that Facebook is being ‘tapped-into’ with the latest high-tech Iranian spying devices; so says a man who had to give-up his desk in a leading telecoms company to an Iranian brought here especially to implement the technology and teach the engineers how to use it. But who really knows, truth rumour, belief, and fact are all mingled into one these days.

Such rumours and stories abound and do nothing but increase the general state of paranoia we are living in so I try to be suspicious of them all. A friend invited me for lunch the other day then called 2 minutes later and cancelled, when I met him later he said there was a bunch of secret police sitting at the next table and he and his friends (of Iraqi decent) didn’t need the attention they would get from eating with one of the very few Westerners left in town.

I’ve noticed my friend becoming more and more anxious these days, “Most people worry more”, he says, “Things were much easier before this unrest, now we can be stopped by the police for no reason”.

In the internet cafe a ‘secret police officer’ enters, my friend sends me an email (I am at the other side of the room), “Keep your fucking mouth shut, there is one of them just over there”, meanwhile, in Arabic, the man enquires about whether the owner is taking copies of customers passports – the owner lies and replies that he always does, I make a quiet exit out of the place.

We walk the long way home avoiding the secret police station now manned 24 hours and more vigilant then ever, my friends closest friend had been arrested for attending a small demo 5 days ago, he was caught because he ran back to help a woman who’d fallen, after 5 days in a tiny room with 26 other men, bound and blindfolded, he was released, he brought with him horrific stories of beatings and torture. They had picked on his friend the most because he had previously been in prison for political reasons, they would beat him, screaming “Is this the freedom you want?”

On the television in the corner of the room I can see the graves of men being unearthed, their blackened hands bound and tied, killed by bullets to their heads, are these civilians, or more soldiers executed by fellow soldiers for not killing civilians, nothing is clear, facts are changed, truth is no longer relevant? Now there are images of tanks rolling across the countryside (just minutes away from here), intercut with scenes of soldiers making their way steadily, heroically, across the green pastures, it looks like a real war out there I think to myself, whilst, from the ‘safety’ of my Hummus restaurant, life passes by quietly.

Damascus is a city of wonderful spicy smells and great vivacious food dishes which have, for a moment, distracted me from the troubles on the edge of town where well over 1000 Syrians have now been killed by the regime in its crackdown on the democracy protests.

Soon, my friend joins me for Hummus – he cannot hold back at his anger at the thought of his friend, a doctor, being subjected to such torture and humiliation at the hands of the secret police. He tells me of new rumours that the Government are going to install CCTV cameras all around town – he says Syria will be like Orwell’s 1984 – I joke that the UK already is, he replies that the difference here is that the CCTV is to be used to identify protesters and hunt them down… a little different to how it’s used in the UK he continues, I tell him that is exactly what the police in the UK use it for at, and after, demonstrations… We talk and eat, lost in the lazy sun, tasty pickles, and fresh hot Hummus, for a moment we are transported, no longer in Syria.

Suddenly, my friend stops and glances to his side, “Fuck me it’s one of them” a man stands close-by staring at us, he is in his late 50’s, behind him a younger man also stares. My friend tells me to finish-up and leave, he stands up nervously walking around the big man who doesn’t move an inch, I watch my friends nervousness against the curiosity of the large man, wondering who is making who nervous here… such is the paranoia inflicting this nation right now.

My friend suddenly changes tack and instead of trying to leave talks directly to the man firmly shaking his hand, a smile breaks across the strangers face, it appears that the man is out with his son and is merely curious about us two guys talking excitedly and animated in English. As the man and his son walk to another table I breathe a semi sigh of relief, nudging my friend and repeating that it was simply a father and his son out for a meal, nothing to be worried about, a silly misunderstanding, maybe my friend says maybe you are right, but then again…