I escaped, but thousands still suffer – Inside the Assad regime

We survived on scraps of rubbish for food. We became so starved that our bodies stopped looking human. We were whipped, beaten, starved, given electric shocks. We saw people taken to be hanged en masse. There are stories of prisoners being forced to rape each other, or of guards raping prisoners. There are stories of guards forcing prisoners to kill their own friends and family, or be tortured and executed. Saydnaya is hell on Earth.

Every day, we waited for punishment. You don’t know anything, and you don’t know when you’re going to be tortured or killed. Saydnaya is not where you go to be tortured for information. Saydnaya is where you go to die.

After a month of that living hell, I was transferred to Tishreen military hospital. Don’t be fooled by the word “hospital”. It was not a place of healing and care. There is a reason detainees in Saydnaya do not ask to see the doctor, and refuse to answer when nurses ask who has injuries.

While in my months as a detainee I was tortured physically, the psychological torture at the military hospital was unparalleled. I was only there for two days, but that was long enough to witness the worst of humanity. I wasn’t fed for two days. I was put in a tiny room just 3 metres by 3 metres, where dead bodies were piled over one another; one was rotting. My room had three tuberculosis patients. We had to carry corpses around.

I saw many executions. A guard held his foot on the neck of a detainee to suffocate him to death. Another was given an “air injection” of poison. The smell of death surrounds you.

I then returned to Saydnaya, where I stayed for one final, brutal month. One day I was beaten so harshly I passed out – simply because I happened to be born on a street under opposition control.

In October 2015, after 10 months of detention, I won my freedom. But my mind will never be free. I am free, but I’ve been taken hostage by the cries of my fellow prisoners, the groans of their wounds, the screams of their torture, their secret prayers, their emaciated bodies and their deaths once they could bear life no more.

My story is like hundreds of thousands of other stories, but I ask you to look past the numbers and think: what if this happened to you? Or to your brother, or sister, or father, or mother, or child, or friend? Would you support the continued leadership in Syria of the man responsible?

I have escaped the prisons, and escaped Syria’s borders, but I have no future. I have no signs of hope. Assad has ruined the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. If our children and our children’s children have any hope in Syria, Assad cannot remain. As long as he is in power, his forces will continue to crush the spirit of anyone who dares to want freedom.