A new report by the Sednaya Prison Detainees and Missing Persons Association (ADMSP) has shed light on the military hierarchy, the chain of command, orders and distribution of responsibilities within Sednaya Military Prison. It is one of Syria’s most secret places.
The report detailed the chain of command in the prison for the first time, revealing those responsible for the widespread and systematic torture and killings of detainees in Sednaya that amount to genocide and crimes against humanity. The report described the prison’s plan, defences, and administrative structure in detail and its relationship with the rest of the members and institutions of the “state.” It also illustrated how it was deliberately fortified to repel possible external attacks and repression of detainees inside it.
The report gave shocking new details about the harsh treatment of detainees in prison. It estimated that more than 30,000 detainees were either executed or died due to torture, lack of medical care or starvation between 2011 and 2018 in Sednaya prison.
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The report highlighted how the “salt chambers” were created. They served as a place to store the victims’ bodies pending their transfer to Tishreen Military Hospital. The regime is believed to have executed at least 500 additional detainees between 2018 and 2021, according to testimonies of survivors trusted by the association.
Diab Sariya, the association’s co-founder and former detainee in Sednaya prison, says: “The regime wanted this place to be a black hole that swallows everyone who approaches it, and no information comes out of it with complete impunity and no justice on the horizon. Our research claims it is a death camp with a clear chain of command, orders and internal actions.”
“Over the years, horrific crimes have taken place, including enforced disappearances, systematic torture and murder inside this prison, which has become a symbol of one of the bloodiest periods in the country’s history. We hope that the information in this report will provide a clearer picture of the leaders and those responsible for ordering these crimes and clarify the prison’s relationship with the rest of the members and institutions of the (state),” he said.
The report reveals how the prison is protected at three security levels, with hundreds of guards stationed in different locations across the prison. The outer walls of the prison are protected by military police prison staff who is known as the Foreign Company and the Third Division of the Syrian Army. They are the first line of defence to protect against external threats and prevent escape from prisons. About 40-50 members of the 21st Brigade of the Third Division secure the perimeter of the prison between the inner and outer walls. Separate units are responsible for securing the interior of the prison as well as monitoring and disciplining detainees.
According to the report, the prison is surrounded by two minefields, one internal consisting of anti-personnel mines and the other is an external field consisting of anti-tank mines. There is even a unit whose task is specifically to monitor all incoming and outgoing ground and radio communications to the prison and the surrounding area, as well as all nearby radio communications.
The prison is located on top of a hill in a mountainous area north of Damascus. It has a total area of about 1.4 square kilometers – equivalent to 184 football fields – which is eight times larger than the total area of all football stadiums of international record size in Syria.
Shadi Haroun, program director at the Association and a survivor of Sednaya prison, said, “Sednaya Prison is a death camp that has witnessed heinous crimes against humanity, including the mass murder of detainees, torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment. For the detainees, every day in their lives has been a day of suffering and torment – from torture at the hands of sadistic guards to starvation, stripping them of their clothes, and denial of health care. They expected death at any moment. This report not only preserves the memory of their suffering but can also play a role.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.