Recent reports by the AFP have revealed, through testimonies by Sednaya prison survivors, the horrific use of “salt rooms” by the Syrian regime to keep the bodies of dead inmates from decomposing.
The story of Abdo
When a Syrian prison guard tossed him into a dimly-lit room, the inmate Abdo was surprised to find himself standing ankle-deep in what appeared to be salt.
On that day in the winter of 2017, the terrified young man had already been locked up for two years in war-torn Syria’s largest and most notorious prison, Sednaya.
Having been largely deprived of salt all that time in his meagre prison rations, he brought a handful of the coarse white crystals to his mouth with relish.
Moments later came the second, grisly, surprise: as a barefoot Abdo was treading gingerly across the room, he stumbled on a corpse, emaciated and half-buried in the salt.
Abdo soon found another two bodies, partially dehydrated by the mineral.
He had been thrown into what Syrian inmates call “salt rooms” — primitive mortuaries designed to preserve bodies in the absence of refrigerated morgues.
The corpses were being treated in a way already known to the embalmers of ancient Egypt, to keep up with the industrial-scale prison killings under President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The salt rooms are described in detail for the first time in an upcoming report by the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison, or ADMSP.
In additional research and interviews with former inmates, AFP found that at least two such salt rooms were created inside Sednaya.
Abdo, a man from Homs now aged 30 and living in eastern Lebanon, asked that his real name not be published for fear of reprisals against him and his family.
Speaking in his small rental flat in an unfinished building, he recounted the day he was thrown into the salt room, which served as his holding cell ahead of a military court hearing.
“My first thought was: may God have no mercy on them!” he said. “They have all this salt but don’t put any in our food!
“Then I stepped on something cold. It was someone’s leg.”
Gruesome pictures from Aleppo
A gruesome collection of images of about 800 dead torture detainees was taken by a new defected military photographer in 2014 in the Aleppo Central Prison. The images that recall the Caesar torture photos were leaked by the photographer to Zaman al-Wasl, which published four photos of the detainees’ bodies. These are only a sample of a large file of civilian detainees who were killed by the regime in Aleppo prison, either by torture or by summary executions.
The regime’s security documented them with names and numbers.
Well-informed sources confirmed to Zaman al-Wasl that the four victims were killed under torture in the summer of 2013 by the regime forces, among a group of about 50 civilians.
The photographer has documented the death of at least 800 civilians, including hundreds of detainees under torture or field execution and 400 prisoners due to starvation and disease.
The “non-commissioned” officer Abu Ahmed (pseudonym for security reasons) worked in Aleppo prison during the 13-month siege by opposition factions, from January 2014 to February 2015, where his mission was to photograph and document the corpses.
Zaman al-Wasl is also based on the testimony of Abu Abdullah, a former prisoner who has been detained in Aleppo Central Prison since 2006 and was a witness to the regime’s massacres inside the prison.
Abu Ahmed said in a video recording to Zaman al-Wasl that regime officers and soldiers committed the first massacre against prisoners during the prison siege.
He confirmed that then-Captain Ayham Khaddour executed eight prisoners after making them look at the wall and directly opened fire on their backs following a prison strike.
Soldier Abu Ahmed added that there were detainees who died in isolation due to their poor health due to starvation and the extensive use of torture in various ways.
Qatar criticizes Assad
The opposition website Nedaa Post said the Emir of the State of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, stressed that his country’s position on the Syrian issue has not changed, including support for the decision to suspend the membership of the Syrian regime in the Arab League.
This came in a comprehensive interview with the French magazine Le Point, published on Wednesday, which dealt with many regional and international files, as well as Qatar’s foreign policy.
Regarding his country’s position on the Arab countries that are working to restore channels of communication with the Syrian regime, Sheikh Tamim said: “I have already said that every country has the right to establish relations with any country it chooses, but the Arab League decided to exclude Syria for a good reason, and this reason still exists and has not changed.”
“I am ready to participate in any talks if we have a peace process on the future of Syria and the demands of its people, but that is not the case at this moment.”
Sheikh Tamim questioned why the international community accepted Bashar al-Assad’s remaining in power, given that he was the main cause of the current problem in Syria.
“Several European countries have generously received refugees, and I understand that this has caused problems, but why do we accept that a leader commits massacres against his own people and expels millions of refugees from his country? ”.
“Is this acceptable to us as human beings? And what if we knew that these refugees would come to us, would that cause problem?”.
“Instead of waiting for the fire to reach our homes, we have to take it seriously and put an end to the problem in Syria. The same applies to Libya. If we are not careful, we will face serious consequences.”
Qatar affirms its adherence to Security Council resolution 2254 as the basis for a political solution in Syria. The Qatari Assistant Foreign Minister for Regional Affairs, Mohammed bin Abdulaziz bin Saleh al-Khulaifi, reiterated this at the Geneva conference on Syria in late August.
“There is a great responsibility on the part of this group to coordinate and help put an end to the suffering that Syrians have endured over the past eleven years,” Khulaifi said.
He also expressed deep concern about the suspension of the work of the Constitutional Committee and the Syrian regime’s failure to take any political steps toward finding a solution.
It is noteworthy that the Emir of Qatar stressed in his speech at the Jeddah Conference on Security and Development last July, with the participation of the leaders of the Arab Gulf countries and US President Joe Biden, that the fait accompli that means the continuation of the terrible injustice to which the Syrian people are subjected cannot be accepted.
He added: “We must all work towards reaching a political solution in accordance with the decisions of Geneva (1) in order to achieve the aspirations of the Syrian people.”