This is a message from Kays Murad, a former detainee in Syria’s notorious Sednaya prison. (Image: A satellite image of Sednaya Military Prison)
When I refused to shoot at my fellow citizens who were peacefully protesting at the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011 while I was undergoing compulsory military service, I was detained alongside thousands of others in the regime’s most notorious prison, Sednaya. For two and a half years I was tortured, starved, and denied medical attention when I became sick with tuberculosis.
When I was released I fled to Turkey where my healing journey began with the support of my wife and the joy brought by my three beautiful children. I now work alongside others who survived the horrors of Sednaya at The Association of Detainees and The Missing in Sednaya Prison (ADMSP). We document the crimes we witnessed in a shared hope that one day soon we will hold the regime to account and spare others the horrors we endured.
Our research team estimated that over 30,000 people were executed or killed from torture, sickness and starvation at Sednaya between 2011 and 2018. In a report published today, we map out the execution chambers where we heard our friends perish through cell walls, the multi-layered security system around the prison including walls fortified by minefields, and crucially, the chain of command in Sednaya that goes all the way up to Syria’s dictator Assad.
Now the international community has no excuse not to use this new information to pursue war crimes trials and to stand up to governments that are moving to re-establish relations with a regime that continues to commit these horrific atrocities. I ask everyone who believes in freedom and in the dignity of human life to share today’s findings widely:
Sednaya prison is a death camp – one of the most clandestine and heavily-guarded places on earth, but the memory that haunts me most is of a small room, just six by eight meters. For reasons I still don’t know, a group of detainees and I were taken there one day and told to kneel with our hands on our heads. What I experienced next is a gruesome emblem of a prison where deaths outstripped the regime’s capacity to bury its victims.
We were inside what our researchers discovered to be one of at least two primitive salt mortuaries, dehydrating the bodies of people killed from torture or exposure to horrific conditions in salt in the absence of refrigerators – atrocities that we document in today’s report. The most painful thing was seeing some of the bodies still moving, foaming at their mouths, who clearly hadn’t passed away yet, and being forced to stay in the room for three hours. Our research reveals that those bodies are later transported in refrigerated military vehicles known as “meat cars” and buried in mass graves.
Every hour spent in Sednaya caused me years of pain. At any moment your friend could be killed in front of you, and then there is the ‘creative’ torture and the crippling hunger – but now we are free we are determined to expose these crimes. We cannot allow a world where these atrocities are being committed on a daily basis with impunity to become the norm. Over 150,000 people remain arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared in Syria, many of them languishing in the same conditions I experienced. Together, we must use all the tools at our disposal to save their lives.
And you can find out more about detention under the Syrian regime and hear our stories of friendship and survival in Sednaya by listening to Behind The Sun podcast.