The Syrian regime’s apparatus for systemic torture : A qualitative narrative study of testimonies from survivors

Despite broad interest of the Syrian refugee plight in the academic and media circles, there are still limited studies analyzing the lived experiences of torture survivors under the Syrian regime. This qualitative study interviewed torture survivors to examine the form and function of the Syrian regime’s security apparatus, and the personal aftermath of survivors.

Thirteen in-depth interviews were conducted in Arabic with Syrian refugees who endured torture. Study participants were at least 19 years of age, resided as refugees in Jordan, and voluntarily agreed to participate in the study. Participation was anonymous and no incentives were provided. Only oral consent was required. Audio-recorded interviews were transcribed and translated to English, and then analyzed for repetitive themes utilizing the narrative approach.

Major themes were observed across three experience-phases: pre-captivity, during captivity, and post-captivity. The pre-captivity phase included two sub-themes: the Syrian regime’s initial detection and arrest system, and the intelligence system. The captivity phase was also divided into two sub-themes: environmental conditions in detention facilities, and torture methods including physical and psychological torture. Some of the environmental conditions in detention facilities included lack of sanitation, crowding, starvation, and withholding of medical care. Torture methods encompassed beatings, electric shocks, nail-pulling, hanging, drowning, suffocation, rape, and the witnessing of killing, sexual assault, or torture of others. The post-captivity phase included their release from captivity, escaping Syria, and post-displacement conditions and activism.

The Syrian regime employs a vast security apparatus to track, detain, interrogate, torture, and subjugate its civilian population. A systematic mechanism commences even before captivity and continues for years after release, with negative implications on the well-being of survivors, their families, and the Syrian people as a collective community. The Syrian war saw a shift toward mass detention, torture as a form of social punishment, subjugation, and indeterminate imprisonment. Intervention agencies, host countries, and policymakers must be informed of survivors’ experiences to better address their needs. Moreover, the international community must advocate for a firm stance against torture, demand justice, and prosecute all parties engaged in perpetuating such extreme forms of suffering and trauma.

Niveen Rizkalla, Oussama Bakr, Sarah Alsamman, Salaam Sbini, Hana Masud & Steven P. Segal | 2022
In: BMC Psychiatry ; ISSN: 1471-244X | 22 | december | 787
Adults, Casuistry, Humanitarian Staff Care, Mental health, Physical Pain, Refugees, Research, Sexual Harassment, Statistical Analysis, Survivors, Syrians, Torture, Violence