Sky News has discovered more evidence of horrendous abuses in Syria’s prisons, this time involving women and children.
Tens of thousands of people have disappeared into jails operated by the Assad regime during the country’s uprising and civil war.
Last week Amnesty International claimed that in just one jail alone as many as 13,000 men have been executed by hanging.
A woman and a teenager have now shared accounts of their ordeals after being incarcerated in Aleppo. They were among many enticed to leave rebel-held besieged areas by the regime only to disappear into government jails.
A 15-year-old girl told Sky News what happened to her and her father after they were lured to cross the line into government-held territory: ‘They held us at the checkpoint and arrested my father,’ she said.
‘They made him kneel on the ground then they took him inside to the detention room. They tortured him with a knife. ‘They took me with him and said: ‘You’re a terrorist and you’re a sniper.’ I denied it but they said there is a report and we’re sure of this information. To scare me they had my father kneel on the floor and grabbed him by his hair.’
Once in jail, the teenager discovered many other women and children being held against their will and subject to torture.
‘There were children with their mothers, and even the children were tortured. They would beat them and make them stand against the wall as punishment,’ she said.
Syria’s Assad regime has rejected claims it is operating a Gulag system of jails in which tens of thousands have disappeared, been tortured and often never emerged again.
But more and more evidence is emerging to disprove those denials. Another woman who spoke to Sky News claims she saw men being tortured. ‘They would beat them and they wouldn’t have a chance to breathe, they would gasp or something like that, and it’s a really terrible sound,’ she said. ‘And we felt like those who were tortured for a while would lose their voice. And at first we didn’t know, but then we understood that whoever’s voice faded away or disappeared, that means he’s dead.’
The same woman claimed she saw children as young as four being beaten until their hands bled. Both women were held for a number of months and then released as part of prison exchanges. They were the lucky ones. Tens of thousands of Syrian civilians have disappeared into Assad’s jails, and never been seen again.
One woman told Sky News how she felt when she was reunited with her family. ‘I had thought I was dead for sure, in the buses I was convinced I was not coming back,’ she said. ‘When I was with my family, talking to them and looking at them, I couldn’t believe that they were really here, I couldn’t believe it.’