Hama airport turns into feared prison

Hama airport turns into feared prison

BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse
The Syrian regime has transformed a military airport in Hama city into one of the country’s most-feared prisons, where detainees are crammed into hangars and deadly torture is rife, activists, watchdogs and former inmates say.

Known as the site of a 1982 uprising which was crushed amid tens of thousands of deaths by President Bashar al-Assad’s father and predecessor Hafez, Hama has also suffered in Syria’s current uprising.

Open dissent has since been nearly impossible, with detentions carried out almost daily by the security forces, monitors and activists say. Those detained are often sent to Hama military airport, which is not only sending warplanes on air raids but also being used as a prison by the feared Air Force Intelligence service.

Bribe for transfer

“The airport is known for being the place where the worst human rights abuses of all the detention centers are committed against detainees,” a Hama-based activist who identified himself as Abu Ghazi said. “Detainees are tortured wherever they are taken, but the airport is terrifying. People pay bribes just to be transferred from there to other detention centers,” he added. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a watchdog that has documented rights violations in Syria since 2006, said the airport has become notorious “for the ugliest forms of torture and murder of detainees.”

“Sometimes more than 500 detainees are crammed inside one aircraft hangar, which can reach above 50 degrees Celsius in the summer and has led to the deaths of many people with heart disease or breathing issues,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said. He said the bodies of those who died were left for days among the prisoners, who had no access to toilets and were forced to defecate in the hangar.

In an account of his time at the airport, activist Mourad al-Hamwi, who was held for 75 days from early July, described horrific conditions. “We were 57 detainees in a dungeon only four-by-three-meters wide,” he said. “One man said he was arrested because of a mix-up in names. Another told me sarcastically he was charged with possessing ‘weapons’.” He said 40 people were tortured to death.