April 19, 2022

Behind The Sun: Documentary podcast exploring hidden world of detention in Syria

A new documentary podcast Behind The Sun delves behind the scenes into the hidden world of Syria’s infamous detention centers. In a six part journey, it explores the stories of people who have endured years of detention or forced disappearance and survived against the odds, as well as the agony of families who have spent years searching for missing loved ones. It also sheds light on the vital work being done by survivors to ensure justice and freedom for the tens of thousands of those who remain detained or missing in Syria today.

The phrase to be taken “behind the sun” in Syria is used to refer to people who are forcibly disappeared; arrested by the regime and vanished within Assad’s prisons without a trace. Their families are left in limbo, wondering if they are dead or alive.

The stories are told by Nadia Albukai, a 20-year-old Syrian woman who fled her country with her family six years ago, out of fear for her father’s persecution, after he was detained twice for his political activism.

Behind The Sun follows two best friends, Riyad Avlar (a former cellmate of Nadia’s father who was detained for 21 years) and his fellow detainee Diab Serrih, as they recall their horrific experience inside the notorious Sednaya Prison, where detainees routinely face abuse, torture, starvation and inhumane living conditions. Thousands have been killed in Sednaya in a deliberate policy Amnesty International has said amounts to “extermination”, a crime against humanity.

Nadia herself first encountered Riyad when she was just 13 years old and he was in prison with her father. Riyad, who is from Turkey, had no way to contact his relatives as he could not make international calls from prison, so he used to call her and she would connect the phone call to his family. Thanks to her, Riyad’s mother was able to hear his voice for the first time in more than 18 years.

Upon their release, Riyad and Diab co-founded the Association of Detainees and the Missing of Sednaya Prison (ADMSP), a group of survivors fighting for freedom and justice for detainees left “behind the sun” and helping the families living in uncertainty to find answers. Their organization has built a database of names of those in detention, based on interviews with former detainees, and have enabled dozens of families to locate their missing loved ones.

“This podcast brings to life the harrowing reality of being a survivor of Assad’s prisons. It takes the listener on a journey through the dungeons of the notorious Sednaya prison, to those who made it out alive and are today striving to help all those left behind,” said Sara Hashash, Communications Director at The Syria Campaign.

Behind The Sun shows how arbitrary detention continues to threaten and destroy lives in Syria. It serves as a salient reminder of the ongoing need for justice for the tens of thousands of people who remain forcibly disappeared or detained in Syria today and who continue to face systematic abuse or torture. But it also demonstrates the strength of survivors like Riyad and Diyab and shows how humans can build strong connections joining forces to fight back even in the darkest of times.” 

“As well as looking back at the decades of violations committed in Syria this podcast helps pave the way forward for the young generation of Syrians, like its 20-year-old narrator Nadia, who are leading the struggle for a free, just and democratic Syria.” 

Behind the Sun is co-produced by The Syria Campaign and Message Heard, in collaboration with the Association of Detainees and the Missing of Sednaya Prison (ADMSP) and the Syrian Center for Justice and Accountability (SJAC) under its project On the Margins No More.

For further information or interview requests please contact: [email protected]


Episode 1 – Unsafe Haven

Nadia and Riyad explore the true meaning of “safety and justice” in Syria. He tells her the story of his disappearance in Syria for 21 years and how he formed a close friendship with Diab between the walls of the infamous prison Sednaya.

Episode 2 – The Playbook

Diab and Riyad tell the story of their experience during the ten-month-long riot and rebellion inside Sednaya military prison in 2008. Nadia explains how the regime’s brutal response during the upheaval reveals the tactics used by Assad’s regime to crush any form of dissent.

Episode 3 – Icarus

During the revolution, Syrians rise and fill the streets calling for freedom and dignity, while the Assad regime used detention and torture as tools, including Sednaya, to crush the peaceful uprising. Nadia explores how the 2011 revolution changed Riyad and Diab’s living conditions inside Sednaya. We hear from Ghufran, who tells us about her family’s activism, who see promise in the uprising but will face the heavy hand of Assad’s regime.

Episode 4 – Erebus

Still in detention, Riyad needs surgery but has no family in Syria to help him. Diab, now free, ignores his family’s pleas and participates in the revolution. The regime’s Intelligence take Abu Emad, a former army engineer, along with Majd and Abed (Ghufran’s brothers) to the same place, Sednaya. With increasing executions and disappeared persons ending up in Sednaya, the detention camp’s reputation as a dark abyss continues to grow.

Episode 5 – The Search

Diab returns to Syria to be part of the revolution and witness a dream come true, but is faced by what he fears the most. Another tragedy hits Ghufran’s family, but a defected officer named Caesar has offered families some answers. We also hear the heartbreaking story of Noor, an expectant mother, who realises that not taking part in the revolution doesn’t mean that she’s safe.

Episode 6 – From Behind the Sun

After receiving an unexpected visit, Riyad is finally free and wants his life back after being imprisoned for 21 years. We learn more about Riyad and Diab’s joint work to fight for those still trapped behind the sun and to support survivors and families of the missing, as they continue to search for their friend Abu Hassan, whose wife – like many other Syrian families – is uncertain of what happened to her loved one.