He leaned closer and whispered: I don’t want you to tell me anything, I want you to die here.
Raed's story is a story about torture. It's a story about how he one day got abducted and was put in a dark prison cell. How he, after fifteen days of torture, wished nothing more than to die – just to be set free one day, as if nothing had happened.
I'm a 23-year-old guy from Aleppo. My story begins on an ordinary July afternoon. I was hanging out with my brother in our store, when a car stopped outside. Two men from the secret service walked in and asked for our ID cards. They took a look at mine, and one of them said: “It’s him.”
They started beating me, hit my head with the butt-end of their guns and took me to their car. I asked who they were, one of them replied: “Angels of death”.
I was taken to one of the city's security headquarters, where they asked for my address and my computer. I waited for ten hours until a person came and told me “it's not your turn today, give me everything you have in your pockets and come with me.” He took me to a dormitory. It was really dark, the stench was terrible. I was terrified. The people who were waiting in the room asked me if I knew what was happening “out there”, if I had any news to tell them. But I didn’t want to talk.¨
He started to beat my legs with his baton. Without saying a word, he was just silent. I begged: 'Tell me what you want me to say, so I can say it'. But he didn’t stop, he just kept beating me.
In the morning the door opened, someone shouted my name. They blindfolded me and put me in handcuffs, I was taken to a cold room. Someone asked me why I had given money to the opposition, I replied that I had no idea what he was talking about – that I didn’t even have any money to give. He replied: “We know everything”. I asked him why I needed to be there if they knew everything, and he became very angry. He beat me up for fifteen minutes, then he shouted that I was to be taken to the detention room again. I was kept there for 20 days. This time, no one spoke to me.
After 20 days the door opened, once again someone shouted my name. It was the man who had tortured me, no one dared to look at him. He took me back to the interrogation room and lay me down on a wooden table. He tied me so hard that I couldn’t move my body. Then he turned the table around, so my head was facing down.
He started to beat my legs with his baton. Without saying a word, he was just silent. I begged: “Tell me what you want me to say, so I can say it”. But he didn’t stop, he just kept beating me. It lasted for twenty minutes. I screamed out in pain.
Suddenly another person, who apparently had been in the room, started talking to me. He asked me who I worked for. I screamed that I didn’t know what he was talking about. “You will tell me anything, even things you haven't done,” he replied. I repeated his words, while they continued to beat me. Then they took me back to the cell, I thought I was going to die. Everyone started asking me what I had said, I replied that I didn’t say anything. "I don’t know anything".
This time, I stayed in the cell for 30 days, then everything started all over again. They called my name, took me to the room and started beating me. I said nothing that time either. When I had been there for 60 days, they opened the door and told me to get all my stuff. I thought I would be released back into life. I was dizzy, I hadn’t seen the sun for two months.
The soldiers put me in a car, I was so happy because I thought we were going to court. But no one spoke to me, and I started to feel afraid that maybe we were heading elsewhere. They took me to a prison belonging to the Air Force Security Service. I had heard of it before – it was the worst prison you could end up in.
They hung me from the ceiling in my hands – so high up that I barely touched the floor with my toes. For three hours I hung like that.
We met a person who told us to follow him, he said we should keep our eyes on the floor. The man took us down some stairs to a basement. On the walls, I saw dried blood. The man stopped, opened the door and said: “Get in here and take off your clothes.”
During those 20 days, I was kept in a prison cell with 80 other people, we had about a quarter of a square meter to move on. There, we ate, slept and relieved ourselves.
On the first day of the Eid festival, I was taken away. The interrogators wanted to know who I had contact with in the opposition and asked for my Facebook account, then they started to beat me. They hung me from the ceiling in my hands – so high up that I barely touched the floor with my toes. For three hours I hung like that. Every time I shouted, someone came in and beat me.
Next day, the procedure was repeated. They hung me up and asked about my friends, who were against the regime or the president. Each response meant the abuse got worse. That continued for nine days, then the guard asked me if I wasn’t going to tell him something – anything, I could make something up. I replied that I had nothing to tell because I was innocent. They hung me to the ceiling. This time, I was left there all day.
When he burned the straps that held my hands shackled to the ceiling, the plastic material melted on my skin, but I said nothing.
The fifteenth day, I wished I would die. I couldn’t stand the torture any longer and shouted to the guard, begged him to let me down and told him I would say whatever he wanted me to. He leaned closer and whispered: “I don’t want you to tell me anything, I want you to die here.” Then he hit me with a thick baton across my back, pulled down my pants and put a lighter to my behind. I cried and begged him to stop.
After two hours, another person came in and told me he would let me down if I promised to agree to his terms. I said yes. When he burned the straps that held my hands shackled to the ceiling, the plastic material melted on my skin, but I said nothing.
After eighteen days, the torture was over. I could no longer move by then, my entire body was broken. I had wounds and marks all over my body, you could see the bones through my skin.
I was going to be set free. I could hardly believe it was true. After everything I went through, it was that simple.
I was moved around between various prisons for five months, then I was taken to a “terrorist court” and a civilian prison. After fifteen months I got to meet a judge, she asked me to sit down and told me not to be afraid. She told me what I was accused of – of having been in contact with the media and criticized the government on Facebook – but also for informing the opposition of regime-controlled areas. When I said I hadn’t done any of that, the judge asked me why I had admitted to the crimes. I leaned closer and showed her my burned arms and hands. She turned to the person next to her, and simply said: “Write that he does not acknowledge the allegations.”
When I asked her what would happen to me now, she replied that I was going to be set free. I could hardly believe it was true. After everything I went through, it was that simple.
I sat down outside when a police officer came up to me and asked if I was going back to prison. No, I said, I will be released tomorrow. He wondered why I looked so sad then – I replied that I just couldn’t believe that I was free. Back in life again. Outside, everything was so beautiful.
But that wasn’t the end of it. After a month and a half, my phone rang. The person on the other end asked if I belonged to the regime, if I was a spy. “We will arrest and kill you,” he said and hung up. A few days later, my brother called me and told me someone was in our store, someone I knew who wanted to talk to me. It was the interrogator from the prison where I was tortured for eighteen days, he told me to come to the shop.
When I got there, he asked me why I was free. I replied that the court hadn’t found anything. The interrogator replied: “You can go to hell, you and the court! I'll arrest you again, but right now don’t have the time.”
In that moment I understood that I could not stay in Syria. The regime wanted to arrest me again and the opposition wanted to kill me because they thought I was a spy.
The person on the other end asked if I belonged to the regime, if I was a spy. 'We will arrest and kill you,' he said and hung up.
I went to Lebanon and Turkey, then across the sea to Greece. I didn’t know if I would make it or die on the way. When the trip was over, a new journey through Europe began. We slept for in a tent for a while, it was wet which made it freezing cold at night. In Croatia, we walked for twelve hours in the rain to get to a refugee camp where we would get the papers we needed to move forward. I remember when we came to Austria, we met a person who told us that Syrian people don’t belong in Europe, that we belong in the garbage room.
The only bright spot was the aid organizations that helped us, and the fine treatment we received in some countries.
When I arrived, I was happy to have survived the so-called Journey of Death. Happy to have reached Sweden, the land of equality and freedom. I arrived in November 2015, I’m still waiting to know if I get a residence permit. Right now I live in an asylum accommodation in Årjäng.
It's hard because I had problems with some of the other refugees who tried to hurt me, I don’t dare to go out by myself.
I think the new asylum law is unfair, we came here without knowing it even existed. I have been waiting for ten months now without getting an appointment for an interview, while there are people who came after me who got a permanent residence permit. I also wish we could start studying, right now we’re just sitting around waiting, without doing anything. We could have learned the language if we were allowed to study.
Our responsibility as newcomers is to show who we are and tell the Swedes about the country we come from, so they can get an understanding and be comfortable with us. I think there are Swedes who don’t like refugees, but it’s because they haven’t talked to any of us yet.
I want to study Swedish and start working, preferably both. I would probably like to move to Gothenburg or Malmö in order to find a job. If I can dream, it’s to become an actor. I love acting.
I can’t return to Syria. If the regime disappears, the opposition waits on me. If the opposition loses, the regime will be waiting for me.