That time when they found me dead

On the 10th of August 2013, Syrian authorities arrested leftist activist, journalist and rebel Jihad Muhammad. He has not been heard from since. Untold Stories, alongside Jihad's friends, comrades and family, demands that Syrian authorities reveal his fate. We also ask the international community and organizations working on the issue of political prisoners and human rights to renew their effort to obtain information about his condition.

18 August 2023

This article has been published in Arabic in the Magazine Alef on the 17th of March 2012.

Dedicated to all the martyrs of the Uprising for dignity, freedom and justice, on its first anniversary… and to all those who are waiting, and have not altered their course.

The garbage collector “Abou Merhej” was the first one to spot me, before dawn, lying on my back, next to a trash can. At first, under the dim light of the street lamp, he didn’t recognize me. He thought for a moment that one of the neighborhood’s drunkards or junkies didn’t find his way home, and was just there, lying on the asphalt.

He approached me slowly, with fear and caution, until he was two or three meters from me. Then he stopped and gave a closer look. I expected him to do something, anything, but he stayed still. He leaned the broom on his shoulder, rubbed his eyes, and began examining my withered features. He turned around, confused, took a breath, and stared at me closer. It is only then that I realized he recognized me since the beginning, but he refused to believe that the lifeless, frightening figure lying in front of him was me.

He came closer. Took another couple of steps, leaning on his broom, and stared at me more. He was horrified, his brown face became yellow and pale. I felt he wanted to scream, and yet he couldn’t.

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He slowly and hesitantly extended the tip of the broom towards my waist while he kept looking at my wide-open eyes. He poked me gently. Then he poked again, less gently, as I didn’t move. Then he poked me almost like he was stabbing at me.

When I couldn’t answer, he exploded in a scream: “God is Great! God is merciful! Oh, people of the neighborhood!”.

Some cries of fear and pray were enough to attract more than 20 people around my corpse. Most of the women and the girls of the street were watching from the windows, or behind half closed doors, or in the shadows of their balconies, to find what was going on.

No one dared to touch me, despite the growing crowd. Abu Mohamed al-Kahrabji was the only one who thought of whispering to his son, in the middle of the noise of religious exclamations, astonishment, disapproval and surprise, that he should go knock at our house’s door to inform my family.

My father and my younger brother arrived. They immediately threw themselves at me, crying out loud. Within a few seconds they were carrying me home, in the middle of a pandemonium of men’s voices between angry, amazed, afraid, and sorry.

At home, women gathered around my mother, who didn’t stop wailing, at times consoling her and at times joining her in her grief.

“Enough mother…don’t kill me a second time…don’t torture me more…it was enough the torment I suffered during a week of detention and the Nazi interrogation”, I told her silently.

But she didn’t hear and she kept going until noon, shedding her misfortune in salty pain and overwhelming lamentations, until she was carried away again, but now outside the house, amid angry chants. Then the voice of her wailing became lost in the roar of the mourners, and their angry words:

“Mother of the martyr…Raise your head

Father of the martyr…Raise your head”

My Father, he did it, with his usual stubbornness. Here he is, accompanying me in a crowded celebration, despite the threats and the warnings of an elegant man who entered the house surrounded by eight guns and the twenty others of his people who were waiting outside.

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He is the same man who interrogated me for three days while I was blindfolded, until I passed away under a deadly blow of one of the executioners, who didn’t measure well its strength.

I recognized him from the voice. How much insolence and spitefulness in it!

He enjoyed killing me slowly and in cold blood for 100 hours, and now wants to prevent my family from celebrating me for one hour?

My father doesn’t care of his threats. He expels him like he would do with a stray dog. Had he the slightest opportunity, he would have taken revenge in that very moment, without hesitation, as he recognized in him his enemy.

The funeral became an undisguised demonstration, in spite of the elegant man, his masters, followers and companions.

All those I knew in my life are there, around me: neighbors, relatives, classmates, friends from the neighborhood and friends from university as well as brothers from the Intifada for Freedom and Dignity brought together came from different places, towns, regions, and villages.

They shout my name, together with “Syria”, “Freedom”, “Unity of the People”, and “downfall the regime”.

Even those for which I didn’t have much consideration, or I used to be rude with or competitive with: now I see them racing, in pain, to carry my coffin.

Abdullah is a classmate from elementary school I always used to call Abu Makhta (Snotty). Samir, from whom in my childhood I used to borrow the pens his father would send him from the Gulf, without giving them back. Marwan, the goalkeeper of the team of the neighborhood next to ours, against whom I was scoring goals through his legs. Mazhar, from whose family’s garden I used to plunder fruits until I started to go to the university.

And many others.

Nothing disturbed me in my majestic funeral, except the presence of some disgraced slaves who played a consistent role in my assassination. Now they were marching with the others.

Joud, the hidden “Awayini” (Snitch), who snitched on me to the killing machine (and I was not able anymore to inform my friends of this…). Kamil, the hardliner revolutionary on the surface and traitor in reality. Hassan, the wild sectarian. Our old companionship didn’t prevent him from harassing us at every demonstration, and now I can see him, on his balcony, taking photos of the mourners he would use later against them.

We reach the cemetery. I see the hole that will embrace my body covered by cigarette burns, the marks of the kicks, the blows, and the electric shocks.

I grieve deeply. I would burst into tears if I were not dead.

I grieve because I have to bid farewell forever to the sun, the greenery, the breeze, the horizon, and the eyes of those I love.

I see from afar my mother, at the edge of the cemetery, crying with the women.

I see my fiancée, to whom I cannot give anymore a child that resembles me as she used to insist, in distraught.

I see my friends, for whom I won’t be able to sacrifice myself again so they can survive, as they chant.

I see the houses of the neighborhood surrounded by army and security vehicles, armored cars and tanks, as if they were a military target. The pain of the dead squeezes me, and my suffering soul cannot find relief, except in the warmth of the soil.

Suddenly, I find myself in another celebration.

Friends I knew, or heard about, or knew only through the news. They are all here to welcome me: Raed Layla, Ghiath Matar, Ibrahim al-Qashoush, Zuhair al-Mashaan, Amer Othman, Idris Rasho, and many thousands more. They are all here!

I am with them in an immaterial, timeless and painless state.

We all follow with pride your exploits, free people who remain committed.

 We will not tell to those who will join us what awaits them: we will leave it as a surprise.

We only tell you that we see your and our blood sprouting in colorful flowers, a warm sun, a breeze, and a horizon with no end.

 It is Freedom. It is Freedom.




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