A Memory of A Year in the Purgatory: A Testimony about Prison and Journalistic Work

Amer Matar

25 April 2012

Purgatory, is the most proper expression to describe the world of the Syrian State Security branches.. to live death in a closed narrow space, between two worlds. Between these two worlds I lived death.

On 28 March 2011 Bashar Al-Assad was a few meters from my house, laughing, while I was being tortured in my bedroom and the jailers’ shoes were scattering my clothes and notebooks. The dictator was laughing joyfully in the Syrian Parliament, and the sound of my pain was very loud in Al-Abed Street in Damascus. They threw me in many solitary isolation cells, and I was introduced to the simplest of torture techniques “the whip”, because in Syria a job in journalism is considered one of the most awful crimes. The interrogator was reading my articles and swearing at me.

When they once moved me from one security branch to another, three jailers asked me about my crime; “Journalist” I answered, and the brutal beating started. At the end of the torture, they laughed, “you animals are making the crosswords puzzles too difficult” one of them said.

I entered my solitary confinement cell, and started thinking of a journalistic subject about the comedy of darkness, about the magnitude of the ridiculous situations caused by the excessive stupidity of the interrogator, the torture men, and the jailers.. they all were stupid to the point of laughter.

Once, they whipped me because of my work for the Lebanese newspaper “Annahar” which has a blue logo, and thus it must be an Israeli newspaper as it carries the color of the Israeli flag, and therefore I must be an agent of the [Israeli intelligence apparatus] the Mossad. I write for “Annahar”, and I do not work for [the pro-regime channel] “Addonia TV” nor write for the [Syrian government] newspaper “Al-Thawra”.

 I was released after 16 days of darkness and comedy accompanying the torture, and returned to my job covering the Syrian revolution. I wrote my will to my father:

“Ask for my life to be my blood money. Say: I want him alive here. Paint our house’s door with my blood, and wash my corpse with the clouds that I love, then burry me in a spacious and crowded graveyard, to raise my head among the dead”.

The will ends up with “ask for your freedom to be my blood money”.

 I took to the streets with thousands of people, because I believe that journalistic work could help achieve the Syrian dream of freedom. I founded with a group of independent Syrian journalists “the Street Institution for Media and Development”.

 The “Street” started documenting events happening on the ground, by making documentaries, founding a news network covering all the Syrian cities, and publishing investigative journalism reports from the centers of events. The team has conducted more than fifty TV interviews with the most important and influential opposition personalities.

The Institution has worked on the production of a program titled “dialogues from the Syrian scene”, which was aired on Al-Arabiya channel, and showed a number of interviews filmed in secret, away from the security apparatus eyes. In addition, a number of documentaries were produced, such as “Smuggling 23 Minutes of Revolution” which was the first documentary about the Syrian revolution, highlighting the development of events in Hama city before the Syrian Army entered it, and it was presented on Al-Arabiya channel, and another documentary titled “Azadi” (Freedom in Kurdish) which was filmed last August in Al- Qamishli city and the other Kurdish areas in northern Syria, and won the Silver Hawk award in the Rotterdam Arab Film Festival for its portrait of the daily life of the revolution, and it was also aired on France24 TV channel. In addition the “Street” produced a documentary titled “Hama 1982, Hama 2011” which juxtaposed the two massacres committed by the regime, as well as a number of reports and stories from different Syrian cities.

 Later, I was arrested once again in a night ambush set by the Military Security agents in Damascus on the 3rd of September 2011. On that night, they tortured me brutally to find out the location of my house, in order to confiscate all my work equipment, but my little patience saved my house.

During the interrogation, the blood burst out of my head in an attempt to make me confess that I was earning money from Al-Arabiya channel for my work, but once again, my little patience saved me from revealing secrets that could hurt me and hurt the Institution.

However, I got out of the interrogation room with a wound in my head and many marks of whipping and interrogators’ feet. The interrogator was insistent on snatching a compulsory confession out of me: that what we were doing is just misleading media, and all what the world media is publishing is a lie, he was trampling on my back and trying to convince me of their humanity.

After 54 days spent underground at the Intelligence branch number 215, they sent me to the Military Court in Damascus, where the judges insulted and cursed me, repeatedly saying “you deserve death”, because I am a journalist betraying his homeland.

 At the court cell, they handed me a small paper, where they wrote my accusation: “broadcasting fake news that could lead to weakening the national spirit”. So with a warrant of commitment I departed to Damascus Central Prison.

There, I met my friends who were arrested one month before my kidnapping. They informed me that my documentary “Azadi” had won a prize.

We tried to smuggle a small camera into the prison, but we failed. So then I wrote with one of my friends an investigative report about the prison, because the revolution must continue even in detention.  We were receiving news every Saturday, the only day where visits were allowed. My sweetheart was smuggling letters of love to me, and she once wrote, literally in between the lines of a love letter, an article of a well-known political writer explaining the situation of the revolution.

In the cell, I felt pity on my father, who was at all times carrying my will in his pocket, I sent him a letter, saying:

“Father, the men never have fear for the men, and the free never have fear for the free. I have abandoned the fear, and wrote a letter of life to you, against the last wills and death, because he who is touched by the revolution, becomes an unbreakable song”.

At that time, I deserted the despair as well, and worked with one of my revolution and prison colleagues on the Syrian Street Carnival project because their prisons are much too small to contain the space of our dreams.

I was released on the 4th of January 2012, after the Syrian State Security confiscated all the Institution’s cameras and equipment, and arrested most of its team. We became “dead broke” as the expression says.

We tried to reactivate the role of the “Street Institution”, and to organize the “the Syrian Street.. a year of Revolution” carnival. The festival took place over the period of 15 to 22 March in many places and squares inside Syria, and many squares in the world’s capitals, presenting various cultural and artistic activities, including cinema, theatre, music, and installation art. But it was not successful enough.

Many documentaries were filmed and are now in process of completion. One of these films shows the battles took place in Zabadany between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Regular Army. The work of our institution will continue, making media materials that go beyond presenting quick news stories, so that to present the daily life of people and the details of how they are manufacturing the revolution.

  Now, I try to avoid prison as much as possible. But they arrested my Father 10 days ago, because he has begotten a criminal journalist, who is trying to convey the truth with a group of his comrades, just like the thousands of the Syrians who carry their cameras in their cellphones to document the truth and the daily death.

What I did is much less than the price paid by the thousands of the Syrians and much smaller than the tremendous dream of building the developed free Syria.

I write my testimony of one year’s work in covering the events and making them from my warm house, while at this very moment, tens of my colleagues are running between the alleys of Homs, Hama and Idlib.

I sit in my house, while many of my journalist colleagues are in their graves because of the Syrian regime’s bullets, for that, I feel ashamed of my house and my words.

A Journalist from Syria

Link to original Article in Arabic


Al Quds Al Arabi

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