Political detainees in today’s Syria are as good as disappeared. Most of the time, their families don’t have any confirmation on their status. Are they being detained? Are they being tortured? Are they dead? For the lucky few who get confirmation of the detention of a loved one, a long and excruciating journey begins between mock trials, and the rare, and far-in-between brief visits. The “Voice of Detainees” is one initiative aiming to relieve some of this pain.
The initiative was co-founded by a number of the detainees themselves who “refused to be strangled and quelled by the walls of prison.” From the outside, the group was helped by a number of former detainees who have experienced the life of detention first hand and hoped to shed light on the suffering of their fellows and friends back in the detention centers.
The idea for such a movement was born from the depth of prison. “We were a group of political detainees who believed that we had the right to speak our mind, and who believed that we still had the strength to force our voice out of our prison cells and need not anyone to speak on our behalf. All we needed was support for our cause,” as the group explains its beginnings. As soon as some of the early founders were released, the idea was put to work.
The group’s main activity is to attempt and translate the raw emotions and experiences of detention into a living memory. As soon as a prisoner is released, his personal tales, and the messages he delivers of his peers who had stayed behind, are transformed into texts, images and graphics that are published and shared widely through social media platforms. This method, the group believes, serves the purpose of documenting these cases without dehumanizing the people behind them by turning them into mere numbers.
On one of these messages we can read:
Detained mother: Maryam Ghandour, from al-Qaboun, Damascus.
Date of detention: Around 8 months ago.
Detained by: Air Force Intelligence Directorate
Detention center: Air Force Intelligence - Investigation Branch (Mazzeh military airport).
Ghandour is a mother of 8 children, two of whom had died in the revolution. On top of her suffering as a mother, the circumstances of her detention are very painful. Blessed be your forbearing soul. We are waiting for your freedom.
“We want to uncover the many different facets of detention. There is indeed a lot of abuse, torture and criminality in prisons, but this is all well covered in the media. We want to uncover the more hidden details of the lives and struggles of detainees and former detainees,” as the team explains its mission.
One of the specific projects of the group is called “Steadfast”, and aims to deliver real messages from detainees to outside world. One of these messages, “The Uncomfortable House”, details the conditions of the cell that is overflowing with its prisoners. To allow enough space for the elderly, or those coming back from torture, to sleep on the floor, the younger detainees take shifts in sleeping while standing.
The group also operates outside the prisons to support the communities and families of detainees by offering legal advice on the situation of their loved ones. They also offer social and psychological support to former detainees to reintegrate them faster into their communities.
The group’s activities, however, are all done with the bigger goal of putting the spotlight back on the issue of arbitrary detention and the rights of detainees. In their own words: “When we were in prison, our only dream was to be able to deliver our voice beyond the prison walls. Turn our voice louder; we will not kneel; louder still; either we live in dignity, or we perish trying.”