A resident of Northern Syria’s Afrin, whose name was withheld to protect his safety, gave a harrowing account of a 65-day detention in Al-Rai Prison to the Center for Documenting Violations in Northern Syria, an organization set up to monitor human rights violations in occupied Afrin and other areas held by Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army militias.
“When we tried to get out from Afrin as a result of repeated violations by the factions…we were arrested at a checkpoint,” the source described. After the arrest, he and the other detainees’ hands were tied, and plastic bags were placed over their heads. Detainees who attempted to remove the bags in order to breathe were beaten.
“They all took us into one room only 3 meters long and two meters wide, after they had lifted [the] bags [but] without removing our blindfolds,” the source continued. “After midnight they brought food for us. We asked to disengage our hands so that we could eat, and they said to us, “You have to eat like dogs.”
The source reported that detainees were taken at random to be tortured, stating that he and others were regularly beaten with cables and that he had even seen one prisoner whose ear was cut off with scissors. Before his release, the source was taken from the prison and subjected to a mock execution.
Photographs of injuries sustained from torture were included in the Center for Documenting Violations in Northern Syria’s report.
This account is similar to numerous reports of the torture of civilians in FSA custody in other parts of occupied Afrin, where kidnappings are a regular occurrence and militias target individuals with family living abroad in order to extort money. Another report from the center noted that Turkey has consolidated power over FSA prisons in the area— lending credence to the source’s mention of Turkish personnel there.
The arbitrary detention and torture of civilians are prohibited under international law. If conducted with Turkish supervision, they are violations of Turkey’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions as an occupying force in Afrin. Despite this, human rights organizations have called little attention to the consistent claims of egregious violations— often reported at great risk to local activists, media organizations, and victims themselves.