Jigarkhwin ʿAbdurrazzaq Mula Ahmad: activist and former inmate of Aleppo’s central prison:
»They used us as human shields«
KURDWATCH, March 18, 2014—Jigarkhwin ʿAbdurrazzaq Mula Ahmad (b. 1985 in al~Qamishli) is a student and activist. He was arrested on March 3, 2012 in Aleppo and was released on bail on October 13, 2013 at the petition of his attorney. A trial against him is still pending. He spent several months of his imprisonment in Aleppo’s central prison. There he witnessed how dozens of fellow prisoners died of starvation or were killed by torture or military attacks.
KurdWatch: How and why were you arrested?
Jigarkhwin Mula Ahmad: I was wanted by the Political Security Directorate and the Military Intelligence Service for my activities in the course of the revolution, such as my participation in peaceful student demonstrations, as well as various interviews that I gave the press. That’s why I disappeared for three months—although I did not stop my activities. The Military Intelligence Service then arrested me in Aleppo. Among other things, I was accused of distributing weapons at the university and helping soldiers to desert.
KurdWatch: Were you tortured while in custody?
Jigarkhwin Mula Ahmad: Yes, between March 3 and April 22, 2012, during my imprisonment in Department 215 of the Military Intelligence Service, which is also known as the »crackdown« unit, as well as in Department 293 of the Military Intelligence Service in Damascus. I was bound in a car tire and beaten with cables. I was tied to a chair and given electric shocks. They also used a method of torture they call the »German chair«. I lay on the ground; my hands were bound behind my back. A chair was jammed between my arms and pulled further and further back. The pain is indescribable. You must either confess everything or your back is broken in two.
KurdWatch: When were you transferred to Aleppo’s central prison? What was the situation like there?
Jigarkhwin Mula Ahmad: I was transferred to Aleppo’s central prison on April 26, 2012. I was put in a dormitory for prisoners of the revolution. Most were accused of terrorist activities or military insubordination. At this time, the revolution was still peaceful; the accusations did not correspond to the facts. When I arrived in the central prison, torture was not yet used, and the food for prisoners was also still okay.
KurdWatch: Could you describe Aleppo’s central prison for us?
Jigarkhwin Mula Ahmad: Aleppo’s central prison consists of a large building that is called the castle. That is the main prison. It is comprised of three floors. There are six wings on each floor, and each wing has ten rooms with twenty-five to thirty prisoners. Next door is a smaller building where the prisoners of the revolution and women were held. I would guess that there were more than five thousand prisoners there altogether.
KurdWatch: When did the situation begin to deteriorate and why?
Jigarkhwin Mula Ahmad: The situation deteriorated dramatically after July 23, 2012, when the prisoners began to resist. At that time the Free Syrian Army had captured large sections of Aleppo, and the prisoners were very hopeful that they would soon be freed. The situation was very tense, and the prison staff began treating the prisoners badly. They wanted to intimidate us in order to prevent a revolt. They achieved the opposite effect. The security guards brutally beat down the protesters. They fired at them with live ammunition and tear gas. Sixteen prisoners were killed; ten more were later executed. Their treatment of us changed dramatically. We were no longer allowed to purchase food, relatives were not allowed to visit us anymore, dozens of prisoners were brutally tortured, and yard exercise, where we could get a bit of fresh air and see the sun, was taken away.
KurdWatch: Some sources report that there was a period when prisoners only received one cup of flour per day to eat. Is that true? What led to these drastic measures?
Jigarkhwin Mula Ahmad: On March 27, 2013, the Free Syrian Army surrounded the prison; it interrupted the supply of food and fuel to the prison. After May 5, 2013, the regime no longer supplied us with bread and claimed that there was no more gas. That wasn’t true. There was definitely diesel because all of the military vehicles in the prison operated on diesel. The prison administration began giving each prisoner only one cup of flour and one glass of water per day. We had to burn blankets and clothes for fire in order to bake the dough we made. Our rooms were full of smoke for hours. It was a difficult time that cost us a lot of strength. During this time, many prisoners became sick with tuberculosis. About one hundred seventy prisoners died of various illnesses. For two months and seven days we received only one cup of flour per day. During this time the fighting around the prison also intensified. On the one hand we were faced with hunger, on the other, the missiles that hit the prison. The guards used us as human shields. We couldn’t sleep anymore out of fear and expected death to come at any second.
KurdWatch: Did the situation improve after mid-July?
Jigarkhwin Mula Ahmad: Yes, but there was a short, very difficult period when we received absolutely nothing to eat or drink for exactly ninety-six hours. Many prisoners, especially the sick and the weak, died before our eyes over these four days. We were helpless, we couldn’t help them. All we did was shout: »We are hungry«. In this situation there was once again an uprising. The regime again answered with live ammunition. There were six dead and forty injured on our side. Sixteen more injured were killed by torture during the subsequent interrogations. Altogether there were twenty-two dead.
KurdWatch: How did you survive these circumstances?
Jigarkhwin Mula Ahmad: I was very lucky; I was never sick, thank God. Although at a height of one meter eighty I only weighed fifty-two kilos.
KurdWatch: Were prisoners killed when the Free Syrian Army shot at the prison with missiles?
Jigarkhwin Mula Ahmad: About one hundred twenty prisoners were killed this way. Missiles hit the outside walls of the room in which I was detained three times. Several of my fellow prisoners were severely injured before my eyes and later died. The soldiers intentionally placed themselves near the prisoners; they used us as human shields.
KurdWatch: Your trial is still pending. What does that mean for you?
Jigarkhwin Mula Ahmad: I am afraid. According to Syrian law, I could be put to death for the accusations against me.
Berlin, November 28, 2013