PRESS RELEASE / November 21, 2022

People around the world walk to demand freedom for Syria’s longest serving political prisoner 

On 24 November 2022 Ragheed al-Tatari, Syria’s longest-serving political prisoner, will have spent a staggering 41 years behind bars, after being arbitrarily detained and denied his right to a fair trial. 

To mark the date, Ragheed’s son Waill al-Tatari, joined by The Syria Campaign and former detainees and friends of Ragheed al-Tatari from the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison (ADMSP) are inviting people around the world to pledge to walk a number of steps of their choice to call for the release of Ragheed and all others arbitrarily detained by the Syrian regime. 

The campaign seeks to reach pledges to walk a total of 75 million steps – a rough estimate of the number of steps Ragheed has missed out on taking during 41 years confined to a prison cell. During that time he has survived torture, was detained in Sednaya, Syria’s most notorious prison and was forcibly disappeared for 15 years. He also impacted the lives of many other detainees who crossed paths with him over his years in detention and who have fond memories of his kindness, good nature and strong principles. 

Leading the walk is his only son Waill al-Tatari, who was born shortly after his father was detained in 1981. He has only met him in person a handful of times over the decades that Ragheed has been imprisoned. He now lives in Canada. 

“For the entirety of my life I’ve been deprived of having a father and of him getting to know his only son. I am desperate for his release – if there is any way for him to spend some of his life as a free man I would want him to come here to Canada, or any place where he can enjoy a walk again. Right now, it’s as if he is stuck in a dark dark dark hole,” he said. 

“By participating in this campaign people who have never even heard about Ragheed al-Tatari or what happened to him can help take away a little bit of his pain and show him he is not alone. The international community has the power to make a difference, I really hope they care enough to help.” 

Diab Serrih co-founder of the Association of Detainees and the Missing of Sednaya Prison (ADMSP) who was imprisoned with Ragheed for five years in Sednaya military prison said: 

“It is every prisoner’s right to know their release date so that they can count down the days until they are free. Ragheed faces an agonizing and endless uncertainty.  It is as if he is stuck in a nightmare and isn’t able to wake up from it.”

Afra Jalabi, a Syrian writer and Ragheed’s cousin said: 

“To me Ragheed represents all Syrians who passed through this ordeal. We are all together in this pain – it is not unique to our family. There are virtually no Syrian families who don’t have someone disappeared, or imprisoned, or killed. His case represents the suffering of the Syrian people, the loss and separation of families – deprived from seeing each other for years.” 

Ranim Ahmed, Senior Communications Officer at The Syria Campaign said: 

“Ragheed al-Tatari has endured unthinkable injustice and cruelty. Unlawfully detaining someone for an entire lifetime and denying them their most basic right to a fair trial is the height of inhumanity. His case illustrates the ruthlessness of the Syrian regime’s arbitrary detention system – a system that has detained and forcibly disappeared tens of thousands of people in its relentless bid to crush dissent. After more than four decades, it’s high time that the world took action to demand his release and that of all others unjustly imprisoned in Assad’s prisons.” 

In 1980, Ragheed al-Tatari, a former air force pilot, was arrested for refusing to participate in a bombing campaign against the city of Hama. He was charged with disobeying orders but was later acquitted. He was arrested again the following year on 24 November 1981 and has been detained ever since without ever facing a proper trial. He has been moved between several prisons and detention centers over the years, and is now in detention in Central Tartous prison

To take part in the #WalkForRagheed campaign: