Investigations | 20 Oct 2014

She wakes up from her sleep to the sound of his voice in her head. For Umm Omar (Omar’s mother) knows absolutely nothing about her son Wael since he disappeared a year and four months ago. Her eyes are filled with tears that refuse to come down, her tongue is tied in knots, and she is incapable to express the extent of her frustration. 

Umm Omar will not be deterred as she tirelessly asks for her disappeared son, lost deep in the the dark cells of Syria’s prisons. 

She tells Rozana: "Every time I hear about the release of a new batch of detainees, I race to the Justice Palace waiting outside to ask those released for my absent son; his image which I show them being my only means to identify him. I have not received any answer yet, to confirm his presence—whether he is alive, or even dead."


A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

Umm Omar is one of the thousands of Syrian women whose homes will have at least a son, father, or mother under arrest. Detainees' families have become accustomed to gathering daily in front of the Justice Palace in Damascus, Police Headquarters, City Hallbut especially in front of the Anti-terrorism Court; access to which is prohibited, especially for the families of the detainees, and entrance to which is often times prohibited even to detainees’ lawyers. 

Last month held great hope to the families of the detainees; as a large rumor circulated about the release of a new batch. As usual, dozens of families hopefully waited in front of the centers.

"Your husband is alive, he was with me in the cell," these simple words were a frail consolation to Ramia, after a year and a half living in the hope of receiving any news about her husband. She could barely hold back her tears in front of us, when he said: "Thank God, at least he is alive!" 

She adds: "His pictures were my permanent companion, waiting in front of the Court’s gates. A year and a half in which I memorized the cracks of the street—my steps, and little baby… Thankfully, one of those released recognized him, and told me he was alive and in good health."

The faces of the detainees' families who gather daily, especially those coming from other provinces, look pale and lifeless with anxiety. These faces become flush with blood rushing to them with the first good news, or the arrival of a car or bus of detainees; running and scrambling among themselves, to ascertain the presence of their loved one among them. These hopes are soon dashed, however; yet in spite of such disappointments, they will not tire of waiting—even long after official working hours. 


Amnesty is a Lie, and the Bail Amounts are Exorbitant 

Many families share the common fear that rumors of imminent prisoners’ release be nothing but a lie, touted by the regime to calm people down. Thanaa, whose brother was arrested 7 months ago, following a raid on the Barzah Housing area, said: "None of those arrested actually comes out… those released are mostly those who committed common crimes such as theft, assault, and common quarrels; the whereabouts of those arrested on political or terrorism charges remain unknown."

Thanaa’ added: "My brother was working as a volunteer with the Red Crescent, and was arrested in front of our house in the Hamish area. I have not heard any news about Louay ever since." 

The sexagenarian Abu Imad, was informed of his son's death under torture. "They handed us his identity card, not his corpse. My heart burned over his absence for a year… they would not even deign to give his body back to his poor mother." 

Detainees’ families also suffer from the exorbitant bail amounts announced for their children, which can go as high as three hundred thousand Syrian pounds, equaling circa one thousand five hundred dollars—a huge sum for the majority of Syrian families. 

One lawyer, on condition of anonymity, said: "The issue of bail has become fertile ground for corruption, commission taking, swindling, as well as cases of rapid enrichment through overburdening parents with huge bail amounts; and exploiting their willingness to pay any amount to bring their children out of detention." 

The scene in front of the court remains unchanged, and the suffering of these families continues. Nothing soothes the heart of a mother who lost her son, or a wife who lost her husband; except for the remnants of photographs that have become the only way to find out any news about them.

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