Report on the Murder of Brothers QB and MB, and their Friends
QB 23 year old was a Syrian-Arab originally from Zabadani - Damascus suburbs. He was the older brother of the family and a university student who coordinated and administered aid and relief committees. On December 30, 2013 he was arrested in Talaa Al Naqshabandi in the Rokin Al Deen district of Damascus at the house of his friend EG by Branch 215 (Raid Brigade) that affiliates the Military Security. He and his friends were prevented from communicating with the outside world, contacting their families or seeing a lawyer. These are the rights which could have protected them from abuse, torture and mistreatment, enforced disappearance. Depriving the detainees of contact with the outside world for a long period of time is in itself demoralizing and inhumane treatment. As has been the custom in Syria for decades, the arresting security agents did not offer any proof of identity or arrest warrant. Some were wearing military uniforms and some were in civilian clothing.
The charges: QB was charged with demonstrating, working for an underground political organization, financing and promoting terrorism, participating in acts of terror, smuggling medicines and equipment to Zabadani, treating injured Free Syrian Army fighters, working for the Al Zabadani Martyrs Brigade as a night guard and taking up arms against the Syrian army. Among those who tortured QB was an agent known by two names (Mohammed Hussein and Basel Shahada Abu Shahada from Jebla) and the notorious interrogating officer of security branch 215, “Sharshabeel” (Gargamel). These charges were different from the ones faced by some in the rest of the group. Dr H, Y and T did not face these charges. The charges of carrying arms were directed at M, Y, E, R, M, O, Q, M and S M. They were accused of working for the Rokin Al Deen Brigade and then for the Jihadis in Birza and firing at the barriers and at army patrols in Birza.
The security agency fabricated the charges as happens in much of the Arab world and the detainee is forced to confess to these trumped-up charges whether or not he or she has actually perpetrated the crimes in question. If the detainee does not confess, he or she will then be exposed to the most severe forms of torture and maltreatment until a confession is made. Even if the detainee is permitted to see the record of the charges, he or she is not allowed to dispute it.
In Prison: The prison guards were originally ordinary people from the general population, often from poor backgrounds. They joined the security service at an early age eager for steady wages and a sense of power. They are fleeing the burdens of life such as completing their education and want to support their families in the easiest way possible. When they join the security forces they are brainwashed to obey their supervisors without question. They are made to understand that they will face criminals who are a danger to the security of the country and the safety of their benefactor, the president. Because of this they will do whatever it takes to please their masters.
QB did not sign the confession. Like thousands of Syrian prisoners, he died before he could sign, before being transferred to a court, before he could seek help from a lawyer to protect his rights and help him defend himself. The detainees in branches of the Syrian security agencies are not allowed to see lawyers and this was the case in the era of Hafez al Assad as well as now under the regime of Bashar al Assad.
This report is based on the testimony of MD, a detainee who was arrested at the same time as QB. In the words of MD: “From the first day we faced the same charge which was working for a Jihadi terrorist organisation ‘ Revolutionary Syrian Youth’, holding secret meetings, working to undermine public safety and carrying out foreign conspiracies. The interrogating officer would sometimes ask us, ‘What do you people want? Why are you doing this shit? You want to bring down the regime? What do you want? Do you want to wreck the country? To destroy the state? You brothers of whores, you want bearded fundamentalists to rule us. You want Al Nusra Front to rule us.’”
QB died under torture 18 days after his arrest on January 17, 2014. The only medical help he received for the injuries inflicted on him under torture was from a fellow detainee, TT from Homs, who had been in the same branch for two years. He cleaned and sterilized QB’s wounds with the simple equipment he had in the chamber they shared. This was the only medical assistance QB received. His body has not been released and no reports have been issued.
MD said that he a part of him died with QB every time he tries to give testimony of the death of his friend. He describes the physical torture he experienced as follows: beatings with electrical cables (one thick cable with two further cables wrapped around it in a spiral pattern) and a green water pipe (the kind used in plumbing systems, was solid plastic and slightly flexible) known as ‘Lakhdar Brahimi’ -- named after the UN envoy. The name became famous among detainees because detainees think that the best solution, for all Syrians, is to implement the plan of the Syrian crisis envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. However, any delay in implementing the initiatives and in finding a solution to the Syrian crisis, could delay the release of all detainees which could be an instrument of torture. Other forms of torture included being put in a position known as “the wheel” (bending the detainees into the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts) ; the use of electrical prods; stubbing out cigarettes on sensitive parts of the body such as the neck, thighs and armpits; pulling out the beard by hand or sometimes with sharp instruments; the “ghost” positions, the most painful of which is where the arms are bound at the back and the detainee is suspended from them with only the tips of his toes touching the ground. Another method of torture was for a detainee to be hung from his feet and whipped and kicked in the head and for his back to be bent over a chair. The whip that was used had a wooden handle with a longer rubber section and sometimes medium length rubber tethers.
MB 21 year old was a Syrian Arab from Zabadani - Damascus suburbs. He was the younger brother of QB who died under torture. He was single and a Damascus University student in the College of Engineering. His lived in Damascus and his family home was in Bludan. On December 30, 2013 he was arrested along with his brother and nine of his friends and taken to the Raid Department Branch 215 of the military intelligence prison and then transferred to the Mezza military hospital no. 601.
The charges against him were as follows: demonstrating, working for a secret political organization, promoting terrorism, participating in acts of terror, working for the Zabadani Martyrs Brigade, carrying arms against the Syrian army, incitement of sectarianism at Damascus University and incitement of murder. He was arrested on December 30, 2013 in Talaa Al Naqshabandi in the Rokin Al Deen district at the house of EG along eight of their friends (EG, the owner of the house, M’s brother Q, RA, OT, FA, M, MD, and YS)
Torture in Prison: MB and his friends had no way of contacting the outside world and their families were not permitted to visit them. (Visits are forbidden in all branches of the security agencies in Syria.) MB was tortured by two prison guards known as Mohammed Hussein and Basel Shahada Abu Shahada from Jebla and by the interrogator known as “Sharshabeel” (Gargamel) in security branch 215. The methods of physical torture included beatings with “Lakhdar Brahimi” and the electrical cable, being put in a position known as “the wheel”, the use of electrical prods, stubbing out cigarettes on sensitive parts of the body such as the neck, thighs and armpits, pulling out the beard by hand or sometimes with sharp instruments, the “ghost” positions, the most painful of which is where the arms are bound at the back and the detainee is suspended from them with only the tips of his toes touching the ground.
While there can be no reason for such inhumane treatment, the prison guards have been indoctrinated to believe the stories they heard about the detainees. They were convinced that the charges against them were true and that these were people who would kill them if the regime fell. This torture is of course carried out on the orders of the heads of the security agencies and occurs systematically throughout Syria.
MB died after 28 days in detention, under torture. He had offered confessions and had been unable to deny the charges leveled at him when he was being tortured. He died before he could sign his confessions with his fingerprint. (Generally, when a fingerprint signature is made to a confession, the detainee does not have the right to read his confession.) He was never taken to court. MB’s health worsened after his brother QB’s death. It completely broke him. His mental state was very bad and this was accompanied by a decrease in his energy and resilience. His injuries got worse and the scabies spread to his whole body. He received medical assistance from TT, MI and RH, three detainees from Homs in their second year of being detained in the Branch. They cleaned his wounds and tried to sterilize his abscesses in a primitive manner, but their attempts failed and the wounds became infected.
The head of the barracks ordered him to be taken to the isolation room where detainees were gathered before being moved from the branch. At this point their conditions were beyond help. MB demanded on being taken to a hospital, thinking this would save him even though everyone, including the assistant of the head of security had warned him that being transferred to the military hospital meant death. However, because of his insistence and his closeness to death the assistant agreed to MB’s request to be transferred to the hospital. He was transferred to the military hospital on January 26, 2014. On the first day of February the assistant informed TT that MB had died on January 28, 2014. MB died at the military hospital after sustaining injuries from being tortured.
MD, friend of the deceased MB and QB reported that MB and QB’s mother is ill and has one young remaining son. Their father is dead. MD also reported that MB, his brother QB, and their friends never carried arms and that they organized peaceful protests in the Rokin Al Deen area of Damascus. The brothers and their friends were detained because of this. All of these were university or college students. Only three of the group were eventually released: MD, MK and YS.