'After everything I have seen, I can tell you, God cannot exist'

| 10.03,12. 12:13 AM |


'After everything I have seen, I can tell you, God cannot exist'


March 10, 2012
Gruesome details ... Ibrahim Ahmad Aloglah. Photo: Ruth Pollard

HE WAS naked. Blindfolded. In agonising pain and scared for his life. It was his third period in detention and he would have four more to endure after that.

In his dark world people died on their feet - slipping slowly to the ground as a desperate human tide ebbed and flowed against each other and the four walls that contained them.

More than 150 prisoners were crammed into a small room for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. They could not sit or lie down. There was so little space they were often forced to stand on one leg. There was no light. The claustrophobia was unbearable.

Advertisement: Story continues below For 38-year-old Ibrahim Ahmad Aloglah, there was worse to come. He was tortured, repeatedly, with electricity and other weapons, during the months he was held by the Syrian security forces.

''They took me down to the electrical room and they put leads all over my body. They put a lead into my penis,'' he says, staring at the ground, unable to go on with the story.

It is not the first time Aloglah is overcome as he recounts the gruesome details of his detention. His emotions are mostly anchored in sadness and grief but escalate quickly to rage when he speaks about Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, and the men who enforce his brutal regime.

''After everything I have seen, I can tell you, God cannot exist,'' Aloglah says. ''How can God allow a man like Assad to walk on this earth?'' He is speaking to the Herald in the Jordanian border town of Ramtha, seven kilometres from the Syrian city of Daraa, the birthplace of the country's deadly year-long uprising.

With his wife and son, 6, and daughter, 3, Aloglah left Syria 10 days ago. They live in a two-room flat that leaks in the rain, after leaving everything behind to the Assad regime. It is, for now, a miserable existence but it is the first time in 11 months they have stopped running.

His family is one of the thousands who have fled Syria into Jordan, many still terrified they will be found by the feared security forces and sent back to an uncertain fate in Syria.

Human Rights Watch, whose researchers have interviewed hundreds of victims of torture in Syria since the uprising began, says his experience appears consistent with its findings. ''We found the use of torture was both widespread and systematic.

''There was a huge variety of sexual torture and the use of electric cattle prods and wires attached to various parts of the body, including genitals, was common,'' said Anna Neisat, the associate director of the programs and emergencies division of Human Rights Watch.

''His description of this is close to the accounts we have been hearing. The scale of torture

in Syria is just absolutely mind-boggling, and there have been tens of thousands of people who have been processed through this system. Of those we interviewed, 99.9 per cent were subjected to torture. Those who weren't were beaten up.''

Aloglah was first arrested in April last year in the early days of the anti-Assad uprising. He had been at a funeral in Daraa, attended the demonstration afterwards and was arrested soon after.

In his first eight days in detention, he says, he was beaten so badly most of his body was black with bruising, the colour still staining his skin two weeks after he was released.

He pulls his jumper to one side to reveal a long scar on his shoulder - the result of a knife wound sustained in the ensuing violence. ''They hurt me day and night,'' he says.

''They would ask: 'Do you want [US President Barack] Obama to rule you? Do you want [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy to rule you?' They cut up a car tyre to use as a weapon to beat us. They called it God. Whenever anyone cried out for Muhammad or God during their torture, they would be beaten with this weapon.''

After working for 10 years in the United Arab Emirates, Aloglah had considerable assets to trade for his freedom - a house, a water purification business, a car hire company.

He paid just over 1 million Syrian pounds ($US20,000) to escape his first period of imprisonment. Later he discovered why he had been arrested.

''I had been talking with friends about the lack of safety in Syria. I said Bashar [al-Assad] had done nothing to keep his people safe. Hafez [his father] did nothing. They did nothing for this country.''

Someone had recorded his statements on a mobile phone. The words will haunt him forever but not once does he back down from the anti-regime sentiments he expressed. ''The demonstrations should have happened years ago,'' he says defiantly.

Before long he was arrested again, taken to a different underground detention facility and subjected to more torture and violence. ''Many people were hanging by their arms from a metal board.

''Two of them were hit so often they died … I saw people whose eyes had burst open from being hit with the tyre cable. They kept me for 20 days. In this time around 60 people died.

''The numbers of dead - do not believe them. It is much worse than what has been reported.'' He says Syrian security forces stole money and jewellery from his home and destroyed his business, taking stock and vandalising property in his office and a factory he owns. At one point he signed the deed to his house over to a senior Syrian intelligence official to buy his freedom.

The next period of incarceration lasted two months.

''They blindfolded me and told me to take off my clothes. I had to lie down on the ground, face down, and they tied my legs together to a stick. They hit me, 400, 500 times with a thick cable. I was so sick I could not stand … a doctor in the prison hospital told them to release me or I would die in jail.

''Prisoners were forced to lie face down on the wet ground, and then we had to lie on top of them, our faces in their arses.'' Powerless and humiliated, they could do nothing but comply.

Another bribe was followed by another moment of relief as he again tasted freedom, only to be arrested days later in a cycle of torture and imprisonment that stopped only when he fled to Jordan.

Now his children wake in fright during the night, plagued by nightmares and always on edge, waiting for the next knock at the door.


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