HomeWorldSyrian ex-prisoners haunted by horrors of 'salt rooms' - Times of India

Syrian ex-prisoners haunted by horrors of ‘salt rooms’ – Times of India

GAZIANTEP: When a Syrian jail guard tossed him right into a dimly-lit room, the inmate Abdo was shocked to search out himself standing ankle-deep in what seemed to be salt.
On that day within the winter of 2017, the terrified younger man had already been locked up for 2 years in war-torn Syria’s largest and most infamous jail, Sednaya.
Having been largely disadvantaged of salt all that point in his meagre jail rations, he introduced a handful of the coarse white crystals to his mouth with relish.
Moments later got here the second, grisly, shock: as a barefoot Abdo was treading gingerly throughout the room, he discovered a corpse, emaciated and half-buried within the salt.
Abdo quickly discovered one other two our bodies, partially dehydrated by the mineral.
He had been thrown into what Syrian inmates name “salt rooms” — primitive mortuaries designed to protect our bodies within the absence of refrigerated morgues.
The corpses had been being handled in a means already identified to the embalmers of historic Egypt, to maintain up with the industrial-scale jail killings below President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The salt rooms are described intimately for the primary time in an upcoming report by the Affiliation of Detainees and the Lacking in Sednaya Jail, or ADMSP.
In extra analysis and interviews with former inmates, AFP discovered that at the least two such salt rooms had been created inside Sednaya.
Abdo, a person from Homs now aged 30 and dwelling in japanese Lebanon, requested that his actual identify not be printed for concern of reprisals towards him and his household.
Talking in his small rental flat in an unfinished constructing, he recounted the day he was thrown into the salt room, which served as his holding cell forward of a army court docket listening to.
“My first thought was: could God haven’t any mercy on them!” he mentioned. “They’ve all this salt however do not put any in our meals!
“Then I stepped on one thing chilly. It was somebody’s leg.”
‘My coronary heart died’
As much as 100,000 individuals have died in Syrian regime prisons since 2011, a fifth of the battle’s whole dying toll, in keeping with Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Abdo, lucky to have survived, described the salt room on the primary ground of the pink constructing as a rectangle of roughly six by eight metres (20 by 26 toes), with a rudimentary rest room in a nook.
“I assumed this could be my destiny: I might be executed and killed,” he mentioned, recalling how he curled up in a nook, crying and reciting verses from the Koran.
The guard finally returned to escort him to the court docket, and Abdo lived to inform the story.
On his means out of the room, he had observed a pile of physique baggage close to the door.
Like tens of 1000’s of others, he had been jailed on blanket terrorism costs. He was launched in 2020 however says the expertise scarred him for all times.
“This was the toughest factor I ever skilled,” he mentioned. “My coronary heart died in Sednaya. If somebody introduced the dying of my brother proper now, I would not really feel something.”
Round 30,000 individuals are thought to have been held at Sednaya alone because the begin of the battle. Solely 6,000 had been launched.
A lot of the others are formally thought of lacking as a result of dying certificates hardly ever attain the households except relations pay an exorbitant bribe, in what has turn into a serious racket.
AFP interviewed one other former inmate, Moatassem Abdel Sater, who recounted the same expertise in 2014, in a unique first-floor cell of round 4 by 5 metres, with no rest room.
Talking at his new house within the Turkish city of Reyhanli, the 42-year-old recounted discovering himself standing on thick layer of the form of salt used to de-ice roads in winter.
“I appeared to my proper and there have been 4 or 5 our bodies,” he mentioned.
“They appeared a bit like me,” Moatassem mentioned, describing how their skeletal limbs and scabies-covered pores and skin matched his personal emaciated physique. “They appeared like that they had been mummified.”
He mentioned he nonetheless wonders why he was taken to the makeshift mortuary, on the day of his launch, Might 27, 2014, however guessed that “it might need been simply to scare us”.
Black gap
The ADMSP, after intensive analysis on the notorious jail, dates the opening of the primary salt room to 2013, one of many deadliest years within the battle.
“We discovered that there have been at the least two salt rooms used for the our bodies of those that died below torture, from illness or starvation,” the group’s co-founder Diab Serriya mentioned throughout an interview within the Turkish metropolis of Gaziantep.
It was not clear whether or not each rooms existed on the identical time, nor whether or not they’re nonetheless getting used right now.
Serriya defined that when a detainee died, his physique would sometimes be left contained in the cell with the inmates for 2 to 5 days earlier than being taken to a salt room.
The corpses remained there till there have been sufficient of them for a truckload.
The following cease was a army hospital the place dying certificates — typically declaring a “coronary heart assault” as the reason for dying — had been issued, earlier than mass burials.
The salt rooms had been meant to “protect the our bodies, comprise the stench… and shield the guards and jail employees from micro organism and infections,” Serriya defined.
US-based professor of anatomy Pleasure Balta, who has printed extensively on human physique preservation strategies, defined how salt might be used as a easy and low cost various to chilly rooms.
“Salt has the power to dehydrate any dwelling tissue … and might due to this fact be used to considerably decelerate the decomposition course of,” he advised AFP.
A physique can stay in salt with out decomposing longer than in a purpose-built refrigerated chamber, “though it would alter the floor anatomy”, mentioned Balta, who based the Anatomy Studying Institute at Level Loma Nazarene College in San Diego.
The traditional Egyptians are identified to have used the mummification course of, which incorporates the immersion of the physique in a salt answer referred to as natron.
The tonnes of rock salt utilized in Sednaya are thought to have come from Sabkhat al-Jabul, Syria’s largest salt flats, in Aleppo province.
The report by ADMSP is probably the most thorough research but of the construction of Sednaya, which has manufactured dying on a terrifying scale for years.
It supplies detailed schematics of the ability and of how duties had been cut up between numerous military models and wardens.
“The regime needs Sednaya to be a black gap, no-one is allowed to know something about it,” Serriya mentioned. “Our report denies them that.”
‘Salt was a treasure’
The combating in Syria’s brutal battle has ebbed over the previous three years, however Assad and the jail that has turn into a monument to his bloody rule are nonetheless there.
New layers to the horror of the battle are nonetheless being uncovered as survivors overseas share their tales, and investigations into regime crimes by international courts gasoline a drive for accountability.
“If a political transition ever happens in Syria,” mentioned Serriya, “we wish Sednaya to be was a museum, like Auschwitz.”
Prisoners recall that, except for torture and illness, their greatest torment was starvation.
Moatassem mentioned his weight greater than halved, from 98 kilograms when he was jailed in 2011 to 42 kilograms when he acquired out.
The ex-inmates additionally see as a sickening irony the truth that the salt they craved so badly shaped an integral a part of the horrific dying machine that was decimating them.
The wheat, rice and potatoes they had been generally fed had been at all times cooked with out salt, or sodium chloride, a scarcity of which might have critical well being impacts on the human physique.
Low sodium ranges within the blood could cause nausea, dizziness and muscle cramps and, if sustained, coma and dying.
Detainees used to soak olive pits of their water to salt it, and would even spend hours sifting by means of laundry detergent to pick tiny crystals which they handled like a delicacy.
Former inmate Qais Murad recounted how, on a summer time day in 2013, he was referred to as out of his cell to see his mother and father, however on his solution to the visitation space was shoved right into a room.
Inside, he stepped on one thing like grit on the ground. Kneeling together with his bowed head towards the wall, he caught a glimpse of guards dumping round 10 our bodies behind him.
When a cellmate returned from a go to later that day, his socks and pockets filled with salt, Murad understood what the substance was.
“From that day onwards, we at all times made positive to put on socks, and trousers with pockets, for visits in case we discovered salt,” Murad advised AFP, additionally in Gaziantep.
He remembered how the excited cellmates ate boiled potatoes with their first pinch of salt in years that day, oblivious to its provenance.
“All we cared about was the salt,” Murad mentioned. “Salt was a treasure.”

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