After his death, under torture, a friend of Bilal’s said that, “The perpetrator could not have heard him speaking, or looked into his eyes as he tortured him to death. For if he had, he would surely have buckled before his kind face, his handsome physique and his elegant manners.”
Bilal Ahmad Bilal was a television director from Moadamiet al-Sham in the Damascus suburbs, and he was killed under torture in the Assad regime’s prisons, after two and a half years in detention.
Testimony from a Friend
Tahani Ma’touk was one of the martyr’s friends and revolutionary comrades, and said that Bilal was one of the most prominent activists in Moadamiet al-Sham. Ghiath Matar, another prominent peaceful activist, was also a close friend of Bilal’s. Tahani described the last time she saw Bilal before his death. Although he was wanted by the regime for his peaceful activism, he came to her workplace and gave her a hidden camera disguised as a button that she could use to film the actions of Assad’s Shabiha during protests, in addition to events at the military hospital 601, which had become a slaughterhouse. The air force intelligence allowed her to visit the hospital, along with her father, who was detained, so that they could attempt to blackmail them and pressure them into giving false testimony on national television.
Who was this Martyr Prisoner?
Bilal Ahmad Bilal, born in 1984 and a graduate of the media department at Damascus University, was the first journalist, in the early months of the revolution, to publicly refuse to carry a journalist ID provided by a criminal regime which does not recognize freedom of the press or expression. He tore up his journalist ID in front of huge crowds at Freedom Square. Furthermore, he used his real name when contacting media outlets and informing them of Assad’s crimes. He was detained September 13, 2011, and completely disappeared. No one heard anything about him until a year later, when his family learned that he had been sentenced to 15 years in prison and had been transported to the Seidnaya prison. The final chapter of his story ended with a small note of paper, informing his wife that he had died in prison.
Bilal was killed in the notorious Seidnaya prison, where prisoners are killed one after another, while the world does nothing. According to some sources who witnessed his arrest, Bilal was subjected to severe beatings from the first moments of his detention, and he was dragged on the floor all the way to prison. He was first detained by the infamous air force intelligence, and then taken to Seidnaya prison, where he eventually died, after the prison system had sucked all the youth, energy and vitality from him.
My testimony: Soad Khbia
“Right before his arrest, Bilal worked as a TV director in the Palestine Today office in Damascus. It was eight months into the Syrian revolution and I worked then as a TV correspondent in the same office.
We used to secretly meet every day and exchange news and photos about the revolution. The situation in Moadamiet al-Sham deteriorated and all rebellious areas and activists came under tight scrutiny.
Protests were no picnic as they evolved into a genuine war between young people calling out for freedom and simply holding placards and flags and a regime which had started killing and raiding houses.
Bilal arrived to work in the morning, emotional after having just had to run and hide to dodge the bullets chasing down protesters. In a low voice, Bilal would narrate a different story every day: today, his friend was abducted and another shot, a third was arrested and a fourth…
Finally, the regime broke into Moadamiet al-Sham. Many were displaced and young people involved in protests went into hiding. Bilal’s father and brother were arrested, and he himself lived in hiding for over two months.”
How Bilal was arrested
For the two months after the regime entered his town, Bilal was basically homeless in Damascus. He was on high alert and plagued by a feeling that he was being followed. Security agents broke into his house, as well as those of other activists in Moadamiet, many times. But he missed the fresh air and the sun, and the freedom for which he had been protesting, and he could not bear to continue hiding so he began moving about more, and working for a pro-revolution channel.
One of his former colleagues at the Palestine Today office claimed that he would help Bilal and give him “confirmation” on whether or not he was wanted by Syrian intelligence. A few days later the ultimately tragic information arrived: Bilal was not wanted by any security center and could move around freely.
Believing himself not wanted, Bilal set about completing his passport application. He had only one more paper which needed signing, from the conscription department, and it would all be over: he would be able to leave the country. So he headed there the following morning, and immediately upon entering the building, the officer looked up and said, “So, you are Bilal Bilal?” He dialed a number, telling the person on the other end that, “Bilal Bilal, the wanted man, is here, sir.”
In no time at all a number of military and security vehicles, carrying heavily armed personnel, surrounded the building to arrest this “criminal” who had once suggested giving roses to the regime soldiers as a form of peaceful protest and, under a scorching sun, personally distributed water to checkpoint personnel, despite them scouring for activists, so that they would understand what he always told his friends, “They are not our enemies!”
The channel for which he worked ignored the abduction of its only director in Damascus, and issued no statement. They never mentioned his detention in any of its programs, or demanded that the security authorities reveal what had happened to him. So this director eventually died under torture for no other crime than calling for freedom.
In a report issued on May 14, 2014, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented an increase in deaths under torture. The report, entitled, “Terrifying Surge in Deaths under Torture in Syrian Regime Prisons,” showed that since the beginning of the year, at least 847 martyrs have been killed in regime prisons, having died due to torture, summary executions, poor health or being denied access to medical help.
The figure includes 15 children under the age of 18, and six women. The Observatory added that many families refrain from publicizing that a relative has died in prison, for fear of security scrutiny and detention.
The Observatory also highlighted that there are over 18,000 missing people, presumed detained in security centers and military barracks. It expressed concern that these missing persons may have faced similar fates to the 847 known martyrs already this year, or if they have not been killed yet, that they are enduring brutal torture on a daily basis, which could lead to their death at any moment.
Depriving wounded or chronically ill detainees from necessary treatment and medicine, as well as a balanced, nutritional diet, has likely also led to the deaths of many of these detainees. The Observatory confirmed that this denied access is leading to a surge in the death toll in prisons.