Film

Silenced Voices: New exhibition highlights political prisoners in Syria

An exhibition curated by the Syrian community living in Manchester hopes to give voice to the voiceless

Syrian refugees

Over 60,000 people have died in Syrian prisons since the start of the conflict in the country. That number, from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights comes from May 2016, so is estimated to be greatly higher.

One of the most notorious is the military prison Saydnaya, near Damascus, where between March 2011 and December 2015 experienced 300 deaths per month. Amnesty report that between 5000-13,000 people were executed there without trial over a similar time period.

The stories of the prisoners are seldom heard but Silenced Voices: Syrian Women in Assad’s Prisons is an exhibition opening in Manchester next month that aims to highlight their plight through the combination of powerful images and biographical accounts – detailing the torment of both former and current detainees.

One of the stories featured describes the experience of Sara Al-Alaw:

Sara Al-Alaw was born in 1994 in the city of Alboqmal, Deir Ezzour. She was a student at the Institute of Medical Technology in the Department of Anesthesiology at Damascus University.

Sara Al-Alaw

In June 2013 during exam season, Sara was arrested at her University by security forces. This occurred after Sara had engaged in a sharp discussion with one of her friends about the political situation emerging in Syria. Sara was then transferred to a political security branch in Fayhaa, Damascus. 

After disappearing from her family and friends, Sarah re-appeared on 11 August 2013 on a State-run television programme. Sara was ‘confessing her crimes’, although it was clear that she had been forced to do so and had been told exactly what to say. The expression on her face emphasized how badly she had been violated. Sara was charged with being a terrorist, a leader of the Mujahideen, and a ‘princess’ of the Al Nusra front who had married several men of different nationalities.

Sara was transferred to Adra Central Prison after spending about four months between different security branches. When she arrived at Adra Central Prison, Sara was broken, fearful, and unsure of where she would end up after having endured such a harsh journey. 

During her time in prison, she was tortured in a number of ways, including being whipped all over her body with a cable.

‘Political threat’

According to Amnesty, anything that defies the regime constitutes a criminal act, which could merit imprisonment. This could be engaging in protest, writing anti-Assad statuses on Facebook or even just being related to someone who is considered a political threat.

Silenced Voices is a collaboration between Amnesty International and Rethink Rebuild Society, the exhibition is created by Syrian women from the Manchester community.

In the run up to, and during, the event they will be embarking on a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #SaveMeInSyria to raise awareness about the issue across social media. The exhibition will also feature pieces of jewellery made by former detainees, with the proceeds going to support the families of those affected.

Those who attend will also learn about what action can be taken to campaign against the situation in Syria and attendees will be invited to write letters to their MPs to help raise awareness.

The exhibition runs from 3pm-8pm from 8 September at Cross Street Church, Manchester

Words: Sophie Monaghan-Coombs

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