Save the Rest: Campaigning Inside Assad’s Stronghold
“Concealed under the tranquility and silence of Damascus, is a different world called prison. A gloomy and brutal world, where our detainees reside. Many of them die, while others await their freedom. For them, save the rest.”
With these words, activists based in the city of Damascus initiated a campaign titled Save the Rest, to agitate against the regime from the heartland of the nation’s capital.
With the beginning of the new year, Syrian activists launched a grassroots campaign that continued throughout the month of January, to highlight the suffering of prisoners of conscience. They began by distributing pamphlets in 10 neighborhoods, some of them under regime control including, al-Muhajireen, a-Midan, Mashru Dummar, Rukn al-Din, Baramkeh, Abou Rummaneh and others. To draw the attention of passersby, the pamphlets took the shape of a 500 pounds banknote on one side, while holding the campaign’s slogans on the other.
“Did you know that an average of 10 martyrs die every day inside Assad’s prisons?” one of the pamphlets inquires, while another asserts “Not everyone underground is dead, there are thousands of lives waiting to be saved”.
To magnify its influence, the banknote pamphlets included quotes from letters written by the detainees themselves and smuggled outside prisons clandestinely. One of these letters read: “No one can give me back what I have lost. I have lost my life and missed precious moments with my family. I have lost some of my dearest friends who died before my eyes although I desperately tried to save them but death was too swift and the arrest warrants were stronger than my attempts.”
“This is a quote from a letter we obtained with great difficulty from a young man imprisoned by Assad’s forces,” explains the activists, “While you are reading these lines, this young man might be getting tortured or insulted while starving and groaning. He is still there in the dark where nobody dares even to imagine what’s going on.”
Save the Rest was impregnated with innovative manifestations of the campaign’s message. In one caricature, a detainee who had filled the walls of his prison counting the days of his sentence, stands gazing at the empty wall of 2015, with a latent hope of freedom. Activists in grassroots group Voice of Detainees also took it upon themselves to turn the wishes mentioned in the letters of detainees into haunting images. The images quote Syrian detainees, and their simple yet unattainable dreams: “My dream is simply to use the toilet at leisure with no one shouting over my shoulders!”
Moreover, the group of 20 activists have organized a number of events and activities in Arab and Western capitals. In Beirut, a solidarity sit-in will be carried out at Samir Qassir square, on January 24. Another sit-in will take place in front of the Russian Embassy in London, on January 26, 2015.
Through these activities, the campaign plans to push forward a list of demands including:
– Releasing all Syrian prisoners of conscience and disclosing the fate of forcibly disappeared people -Abolishing all military trials for civilians and bringing – to justice those who tortured innocent detainees and abused prisoners.
– Sending inspection committees to check human rights conditions of detainees in prisons and security branches.
– Providing detainees with sufficient medical care under the supervision of the International Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent.