Adnan was arrested last Friday in Moudamiyeh, a town near Damascus, after protests in which he did not take part.
“We saw about a thousand protesters come out of the mosque and then more people came to join them. The mosque was surrounded by riot police and troops, but it was peaceful until the protesters tried to start marching, chanting “God, Syria, Freedom, that’s all!”. Some protesters threw stones, then we saw the security forces open fire. One seemed to target the protest leader; they shot him in the head.
We were trying to leave the town when someone shouted “Stop!” and ordered us to kneel down. It was troops from the Fourth Division [the elite unit commanded by President Bashar al-Assad‘s brother Maher, which has been involved in suppressing protests in Deraa, the south-western town that has become a focus for unrest].
We have always regarded the security forces with fear, but not the army. They are conscripts – even in the lower ranks of the Fourth Division. They pulled our tops over our heads so we couldn’t see clearly and pinned our arms behind our backs. Then they hit us on the back and head, sometimes with the butts of their guns. They accused us of being foreign agents, and of trying to film protests to send to the media.
We were thrown in the back of an army truck and taken to the base on the outskirts of Damascus. We were put in a room and beaten from 4pm to 4am. Can you imagine? For 12 hours without sleep. It would stop for 15 minutes and then someone else would come in and start. They accused us of working for [former Lebanese prime minister] Saad al-Hariri and the Saudi prince Bandar bin Sultan. There was no point in arguing – they would only beat us more.
In the morning we were taken to the Air Force Intelligence. We were put in a 15 metre square cell with more than 50 people. There were 15-year-old boys and 80-year-old men. We could only stand up; there was no space to sleep. I thought, why are they locking these people up? This is why protests first started. None of them had been at protests. Some were arrested just because they were from Deraa. Many were fathers and sons. People were covered in blood: they had bad bruising and cuts on their bodies or bashed in faces.
I tried to lift the spirits of the young people by talking to them. One 15-year-old boy asked me why we were there if the president had lifted the emergency law. I didn’t know what to say: this country doesn’t run on law. A man my age was crying. I asked him why. He told me he had heard his elderly father being beaten and he had begged them to beat him instead. ‘He is old, he can’t take it like I can,’ he said. ‘But they ignored me’. Another man with cancer asked if he could go home. They replied: ‘We don’t care about your illness. If you die, we will dig a grave for you here.’
The whole experience is built around humiliation. We were blindfolded. We were shouted at. We were only allowed to the toilet once a day, for three seconds. We had to strip down to our underwear and someone would stand outside the door counting. If you didn’t finish within three seconds you were beaten. I often didn’t go; I was too worried. We were given water and food, but you don’t want to drink when you can’t go to the toilet.
We were taken out of the cell to be beaten and I was interrogated several times. One time they took us to a room with an electric chair. I said no, this is too much, not this. They didn’t use it but they have one – I saw it with my own eyes. They accused me of working for foreign gangs. They were angry about videos of the protests being leaked and they searched everyone’s phones. They finally decided to let me go in the early hours of the morning, exhausted and bruised and battered. It was a horrible experience. This regime is brutal but also stupid. Everyone in there said they were angrier, not more afraid. You cannot forgive a regime that does this to you.”
Adnan’s name has been changed to protect his identity