Hearing the news that his brother had been lost hit him like a thunderbolt. Why? How? And who? Where is he now? What will happen to him? He demanded answers to all these questions as the awareness that he man be lost forever began to dawn on him.
Mohammad is from the Damascus countryside. His wife is the one to relate the story of his loss, and finally death under torture.
Mohammad works as a commercial trader. When the countryside of Damascus came under government siege, he, along with his wife and daughters were displaced, moving to central Damascus.
Their story began when Mohammad's brother disappeared at one of the military checkpoints. Mohammad tried to use his strong relationships to inquire about his brother and save him. His brother was everything in his life, so he didn’t leave any stone unturned to try to ask around.
He thought he had found the right thread when a friend said he could contact a powerful individual to contact his brother. He agreed to meet him in a coffee shop. He told this person that he was ready to pay anything to save his brother.
Mohammad had brought a bag of money with him. He waited, but the security services man didn’t turn up. Instead, a security patrol arrived and took Mohammad, along with the money. One month later he was found lying dead on a corner in the street. His body had deteriorated and he had lost a lot of weight. His skin had turned blue due to severe torture and his eye was knocked out.
His listless wife described the experience: “Mohammad was killed just because he asked about his lost brother.”
Mohammad left behind three daughters, the eldest just six years old, and a wife who spent long days alone waiting for him silently, only to receive the news of his death when she saw his photograph on a web page, under which was written: “An anonymous body found on the road to Barzeh.” This was the body of her husband, Mohammad. His brother’s fate remained unknown until recently.
This is one of the endless stories about one of the most recognizable phenomenons in Syria: Enforced disappearance or detention, without leaving any trace. There are millions of stories daily about the torment suffered by the parents and families of disappeared people.
People may be arrested randomly in the street, at a checkpoint, or even taken from their homes without any apparent reason. Sometimes the person is wanted by name because a report has been written by someone to the security services, accusing them with a particular charge. The name is circulated at checkpoints spread across the cities. Parents and the relatives begin to look for the lost person within a narrow range. But in many cases they don’t look for him at all, because they know the answers already; they will not find him, he has disappeared.
They fall under the hammer of dead questions for which they will not find any answers. Who will they ask about him? Where will they ask? What is his fate? Nobody, except one authority, has the answers. But this authority doesn’t clarify anything or provide any information. From their point of view, just to ask questions is a crime in itself that may cost the disappearance of the person asking, or his life.
Abduction and forced disappearances have been one of the most well-documented tactics of the Syrian regime for decades, but during the revolution it has expanded significantly. It is adopted by many parties in the conflict, but the most prominent is the security branches, numbering about 18. All of them are still operating inside Syria in addition to the popular committees, which are led by loyal sectarian fanatics or high-level security service officials.
Ahmad Maatouk, a political activist aged in his 70's, described the suffering, pain and loss since losing his youngest son “Mohammad” two years ago.
“His mother and I feel like time has stopped. Every time we here the sound of steps ascending the stairs we pray that he is coming home," he said.
"Mohammad wanted to participate in the revolution in his own way, so he chose to volunteer with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent as a fireman.
One day, about two years ago, when the Airforce Security Branch, which lies at the entrance to Qaboun in Damascus governorate, was bombed, Mohammad rushed to extinguish the fire in the residential houses adjacent. While working to save people he was hit and somebody took him to the hospital. From there, while he was in his bed, he was kidnapped by one of the Security Services. Since then nobody has seen him.”
Enforced disappearances are a major way for the regime to collectively punish, abuse and eliminate opposition. They provide no information about their fate, location or conditions of detention. As the disappeared are not subjected to any trial, nobody is allowed to visit them to learn any more information about their charges. There is no control over their jailers, and they haven’t any names or files, so nobody knows what the accusations are.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are still waiting their lost relatives, some of whom have been disappeared or detained by the Syrian regime for more than three years. According to the figures released by some documentation centers, the number of the forcibly disappeared and missing people in Syria is estimated to be about 500,000. The regime calls them detainees, but they do not have any of the rights of detainees.
For over three years, this phenomenon has no longer been limited to men. There are now regular stories about the abduction of women, children and whole families.
Hiba is a young mother in her early 20s. Only one month after she had her second child, she was abducted, along with her baby, one-year-old daughter, and husband while they were passing the military checkpoint in al-Kesweh, in the southern countryside of Damascus.
The young woman's family had no idea where to look or who to ask. No one has any information about Hiba and the children.
Every time her mother hears that a detainee has been released or a missing person returned, she rushes to ask him if they have any news about her daughter and the children, whether they are alive or dead. But she never gets an answer.
And so, she sighs ruefully, asking: "Who can arrest such young children? Have any of you ever heard such a thing before?"
Another mother reciting the same questions continually, without any answers to ease her aching heart.