SYRIAN children as young as eight have been flogged and tortured by fighters affiliated to al-Qa’ida while their relatives, held in neighboring cells, listened, according to testimonies presented by Amnesty International.
The human rights group also claims in a report published yesterday that judges and jailors in sharia courts in northern Syria wore explosive belts so that they would be ready to blow themselves up with their captives, should they be attacked. The testimonies told, among other things, of adults being given electric shocks.
Amnesty attributes the abuses to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which is affiliated to al-Qa’ida and now controls significant parts of northern Syria in its battle against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Once ISIS seized control of an area, they imposed strict sharia rules and – according to the testimonies – inflicted horrific acts of violence on locals.
The report calls on Turkey to refuse shelter to ISIS fighters and stop the flow of arms over their mutual border. It also urges the Gulf states to stop funding the group. One former prisoner interviewed by Amnesty after his release “spoke of being present in a cell with a father as (he) heard his 13-year-old son apparently being tortured but was powerless to act”.
Another witness described how a teenager, believed to be 13 years old, was flogged 40 times a day after being accused of stealing a motorcycle. Yet another witness recalls hearing the beating of another boy: “I counted 94 lashes falling on this child and then I could count no more.”
Children were not held separately from adults, and so witnessed some of the routine abuse. Typically, prisoners were forced to adopt the “scorpion” position – crouching with one hand stretched over the shoulder and handcuffed to the second hand. “In one case, a former detainee told Amnesty International he was tortured with electric shocks and beaten with a cable while suspended with only one foot touching the floor,” said the report. Others were ordered to drink diesel or up to six litres of cooking oil.
The abuses are alleged to have happened between May and November this year, and the testimonies of the 10 former detainees paint a stark picture of a group determined to cow the local population into submission. After their floggings, the detainees were released, and fled to Turkey. Most judges wore masks, as did the group’s soldiers, who sometimes snatched their victims in daylight in the suburbs of Aleppo. Some trials, including at least one for adultery, ended in a swift execution.
Part of the torture was psychological. Prisoners were told they would be killed and thrown into the Euphrates River.
“I’ll make you food for the fishes,” was a frequent threat against inmates, the report claims.