Since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, the government has arbitrarily detained, disappeared, and tortured peaceful political activists, journalists, humanitarian workers, doctors, and lawyers. Since the overwhelming majority of detention facilities are off limits to outsiders, the families of detainees lose all contact with them. 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 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.
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.
“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.
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.