After my travels around the Middle East were drastically altered due to a burst appendix in Egypt, I am returning to NFAM. A special thanks goes to the other Chris for taking over the site in my absence (please also take a look at his horrifying tale of being shot in the head with an Israeli tear gas container – frightening and disturbing, but very real and very common). After a month off, there are, of course, many things that have occurred in the Middle East that I have not commented upon – and playing catch-up is a tough task. So let us start in Syria where the Assad regime has spent the last month cracking down on protesters.
Amid the unconfirmed – though certainly growing – number of civilian deaths, the shelling of towns, and sanctions comes the story of the Al Jazeera journalist, Dorothy Parvaz, who was detained for nearly three months by the Syrian authorities who believed that Parvaz – who entered Syria under an Iranian passport – was and Israeli-American spy (Parvaz holds Canadian, American and Iranian citizenship). That Parvaz was detained is not surprising as the Assad regime is unsurprisingly suspicious of anything and anyone at the moment. What was shocking was that the authorities allowed Parvaz to witness the brutal practices of torture that are apparently prevalent in the detainment centers across the country, knowing that the reporter would inevitably share what she had seen and heard with the world.
Among other things – read her full account here – Parvaz met teenage girls detained without charge, heard relentless beatings of men and inhabited a blood stained prison cell:
I was taken to a second cell, this one, with smears of blood on the wall. I found what looked like a bloodless corner and perched until called upon again – at around midnight.
I was again handcuffed, but this time, before the blindfolds went on, I caught sight of a young man, no more than 20, chained to a radiator outside the hallway. He had a legal pad on his knees, was blindfolded, and was quivering so fiercely he could hardly hold the pen with which he was probably meant to ink some sort of confession.
Meanwhile, the beatings and cries outside continued.
I am not surprised that Parvaz was detained; I am not surprised that the Syrian Mukhabarat (secret police) are detaining civilians seemingly at random; and I am hardly surprised that there is widespread use of torture in Syrian prisons. Yet at a time when the international community is directly focused on the Syrian regime, it seems unwise to allow such a damning, first-hand account to be released. Of course, Syria is not in the habit of catering to Al Jazeera journalists who are publicizing the unrest in the country. For Assad and the rest of the Syrian regime, the key to putting down the protests and surviving this Arab Spring is to minimize the amount of criticism that reaches the ears of both Syrians and the international community. Revelations of torture, in other words, is precisely what Assad does not need.