Student tortured in Syria sees wall of fear falling – By Janet Bagnall, Postmedia News
Despite danger, students joining protests against Assad’s regime
Yaman Qadri, an enchanting looking Syrian teenager, would like us, as part of the international community, to keep pressuring the Assad regime in Syria to open the door to freedom and democracy. She is speaking as someone who has experienced some of the worst excesses of the regime – attacked by its security thugs, beaten up, held in solitary confinement for 23 days, threatened with death and forced to listen to other prisoners being tortured, night after long night.
A few days ago, Qadri, 19, arrived in Montreal, welcomed by family members who spent weeks last year in a torment of anxiety, not knowing whether she was alive or dead. She is here on a student visa.
Last fall, word of her detention and disappearance spread across the Internet, provoking outrage, both at home and around the world. Online petitions were launched and Syrians, especially women, marched for the young woman they called the « flower of Damascus. »
At the time she was detained, Qadri was a second-year medical student at the University of Damascus. « The centre of Damascus is relatively safe, » she said. « That meant we could all go to our classes in safety while people were being killed in other cities and even in the suburbs of Damascus. » She decided she should get involved in the protests.
She and three other students printed up thousands of flyers in red, green, white and blue, with slogans such as « Stop killing » and « Syria belongs to us, not the Assad family. » On Oct. 10, they took the flyers to the top floor of a four-storey medical lab building, taking care to choose one without any indoor cameras.
Qadri watched as the brightly coloured flyers fell to the courtyard. « Students picked them up but as soon as they saw the anti-Assad slogans, they dropped them as fast as they could. »
Unfortunately for Qadri and her fellow students, the building they chose had outdoor cameras, allowing security guards to track them down. On Nov. 3, a day after students finally mounted a protest at the university, Qadri and a male student who was also involved in the flyer protest were detained by security guards and university staff.
« There were three women and three men, » Qadri said. « They took me into a small guardhouse and began hitting me and pushing me. I was screaming. I was scared . »
Finally, an unmarked car came to get her. When she bent down to enter the car, she recoiled in fear. A man holding a large firearm was sitting in the back seat, staring at her. » They told me I was being taken to a place where no one would find me. They told me I would never see my family again. »
That place turned out to be a security building, with cells in the basement. Her « interview » took place in an office. She sat on a plastic chair. Two men stood on either side of her and the interrogator sat across from her. When he didn’t like her answers, the men beside her hit her hard. She was also hit all over her body with an electric prod. As she was escorted, crying, back to her cell, she became aware of other prisoners, all men, praying for her, calling out words of encouragement.
She spent 23 days in another prison, her solitary cell between two interrogation rooms. The torture sessions started at 9 p.m. and lasted into the small hours of the morning.
She herself was not physically harmed again after the first night.
« I decided I did nothing wrong, so I told them the truth, that the flyers were my idea, » she said. « They couldn’t understand how an 18-year-old girl could have her own ideas, » Qadri said. » They couldn’t understand why people wanted freedom. ‘What is freedom to you?’ they kept asking.
« They hope that by torturing people they will make them renounce the uprising, but even after all the torture and the killings, people are not stopping. Even people who thought (Syrian President Bashar) Assad would reform the government have joined the protests. »
Once she was released, Qadri’s parents insisted she leave Syria immediately.
Qadri is convinced the Assad regime will fall. « The wall of fear that kept it in place is down, » she said. » Young people feel they have an important role to play. I believe that we will win. »