Death of a Syrian doctorBy ABC’s Connie Agius
Posted September 06, 2011 15:31:42Photo: Tortured to death: Sakher Hallak poses for a photo in Times Square, New York City, April 2011. (ABC: Supplied)
Sakher Hallak had burns caused by electric shocks all over his body.
His genitals had been mutilated, eyes gouged, and he had holes to the back of his head, face, and to the sides of his body. His bones had been broken, and the marks of four different types of military boots were imprinted all over his body.
Sakher Hallak was a doctor, a specialist in eating disorders from the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Dr Hallak’s body was found in a ditch on the side of the road two days after he was detained by Syrian forces on May 25, 2011.
His older brother, Hazem Hallak, also a doctor, heard about his brother’s death from Sakher Hallak’s wife. She worked out some of what had happened when they took her to the morgue to see the body.
"They were also trying to strangle him with a rope, and he was trying to defend himself. So, what he did was put his hands under the rope. The rope was so tight that his hands were almost severed. His fingers almost cut off," Dr Hallak said.
"The doctor, who was performing the autopsy, was crying. He said this is the first time in his life that he cried when he did an autopsy," he said.
What had brought this unassuming doctor to this appalling end?
It’s not apparently obvious because Hazem Hallak says his brother and family have never been involved in politics and they were not against President Bashar al-Assad.
"He was from the elite, he was from the rich, he actually benefited from the Bashar al-Assad presidency because he was from the top of the top," he said.
So what did draw the torturers’ attention?
Dr Hallak said his brother became a target after a recent trip to the United States.
"A week before they took him, he was in the United States for three weeks for an eating disorder conference," Dr Hallak said.
"When he went back to his home town in Aleppo, the physicians were circulating a petition for doctors to be allowed to treat injured from demonstrations, as well as to allow peaceful demonstrations."
Aleppo has been mostly immune to protests, and is a city known for its loyalty to President Bashar al-Assad.
"Lots of demonstrators get injured and the government says you’re not allowed to treat them because they’re considered criminals. But doctors have an oath to treat everybody," he said.
He said that after they received the petition, the government simply picked a doctor from the list.
"They wanted a doctor they could make an example out of. They chose him because he’s well-liked, well-known, he’s a good scientist, and because he was in the United States," he said.
Dr Hallak said his brother was taken to the Syrian Security Office after leaving his clinic, and managed to make a phone call.
"On Thursday morning, he managed to call his best friend to assure him he was fine and he would be asked a few questions about his recent trip to the United States. He said he would be released soon," Dr Hallak said.
Syrian officials confirmed with family members that Dr Hallak was in their custody and being questioned.
"They thought that when he went to the United States that he may had met with officials. I found this out from a colonel after his death. The questions they were asking him were - who did you meet in the United States? Who were these officials you met?"
"He did not meet with any officials," he said.
The family was told that Dr Hallak was going to be released the following day. They did not expect that he would not be released alive.
We spoke to Sakher Hallak’s family partly because his case is one of 88 deaths in custody examined by Amnesty International.
Amnesty’s latest report, Deadly detention: Deaths in custody amid popular protest in Syria, found evidence to support the torture or ill-treatment of at least 52 detainees. They concluded that torture either contributed to or directly caused their deaths.
The report said all the victims were believed to have been detained because they were involved, or suspected of being involved, in the pro-reform protests.
Hazem Hallak has also been threatened for speaking out against the regime, but he said he will not be silenced.
"Even if I can save one life. It’s worth it," he said.
Hazem Hallak said he is going to miss his brother. He began to weep as he talked.
"I changed his diapers when he was a baby. I mentored him through school. We used to talk on Skype every day. He was my brother, my son, my best friend. He was such a good, gentle man. He never hurt anyone."
"Now, I’ve lost him."
Connie Agius is a producer for ABC Radio’s AM, The World Today and PM programs.
This is a Syrian prison hospital where you are at your best when you check in than when you check out, if you are still alive at all. Yes, this is one of the Syrian regime’s hospitals, where they often kill detainees in their sick bed, even if they were merely protestor who were detained because of taking part in demonstrations.
In order to escape, this young man got some help from his fellow freedom-loving Syrians who are pro-democracy activists.
The following videos were found today on TheSyrianInterpreter’s YouTube channel.They have been uploaded here as a precaution against them being censored or otherwise interfered with or made inaccessible to the public. Many thanks to SyrianInterpreter for the English translations.
Harrowing testimony of torture, intimidation and humiliation from a doctor arrested in the crackdown on medical staff in Bahrain has revealed the lengths to which the regime’s security forces are prepared to go to quash pro-democracy protests.
Interviews obtained by The Independent from inside Bahrain tell of ransacked hospitals and of terrified medical staff beaten, interrogated and forced into signing false confessions. Many have been detained, their fate unknown.
Inspired by the pro-democracy protests which swept Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, Bahrainis took to the streets in their thousands in February, demanding greater political rights and more equality for the Shia Muslim majority, ruled over for decades by a Sunni monarchy.
Click the link for the rest of the article.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, disappeared by the authorities on April 3, is reported to have confessed to charges of tax evasion after being tortured in custody, according to an article published in a Chinese human rights journal.
The details of the case, said to have been leaked by “an official with conscience in the Ministry of Public Security,” were published on April 21 EST in a text titled “The Alarming Conspiracy Behind Ai Weiwei’s Torture and Confession,” dated April 19, in the biweekly journal of the NGO Human Rights in China (HRIC). The article claims to be written by an anonymous Xinhua journalist and was in the “Letters from China” section.
The text says that Fu Zhenghua, Director of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, instructed Ai’s captors to show him the video of the torture of Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer who was targeted by the authorities after writing letters in protest of the persecution of Falun Gong.
The video showing Gao being tortured, “included electric batons being inserted into Gao’s anus, and his blood, semen, feces, and urine draining out,” a translation of the first paragraph of the article says.
Fu Zhenghua ordered that security forces do the same things to Ai Weiwei, to “make him do what we want him to do.” The text says that, after being tortured for several days, Ai signed a confession.
Ai’s case is being handled by the Economic Investigation General Unit and the Domestic Security Team of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, the article says.
He Qinglian, a commentator on Chinese social and political issues, believes the reports of torture are credible. “I had thought about that when he was first detained,” she told Radio Free Asia in an interview. “You have to realize that he is the only one who dares to mock the authoritarian regime.”When Ai’s older sister Gao Ge saw the news, RFA reports, she said “I cannot let my mother see.”
She had no way of knowing the truth of the report, she said; they are going to ask the authorities to clarify the matter.
The journal’s editorial policy says that they welcome submissions from a wide variety of sources. HRIC did not comment to The Epoch Times on whether they believe the article by the alleged Xinhua reporter to be credible or not.