Mark Taylor
Taylor is working at FAFO, a political research institute based in Oslo.

SYRIA: Syria’s Dissappeared should be mandatory viewing for all of those concerned about human rights or the Middle East.

It was unexpected, and yet so predictable. The 2011 Arab revolutions seemed to come out of the blue, and yet they made perfect sense. The repressive regimes of the Arab world had long been living on borrowed time.

Although different in each country, internal security forces were a key element of regime power most Arab countries. The “mukhabarat” (intelligence) was a term that instilled fear – and sometime derision – throughout the Arab world. Some were more effective and more brutal than others, but all spied on their own citizens rather than on foreign governments. In every country the word “mukhabarat” meant not torture and often disappearance.

As the 2011 revolutions spread from country to country it became clear that “mukhabarat” had lost their power. People were fed up and in their demonstrations for
democracy and human rights, they had defeated fear. They had tasted freedom.

If there was one country in which the citizen might be forgiven for not following the pattern of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya, that country was Syria. As brutal as the mukhabarat was in all these regimes, the Syrian mukhabarat were qualitatively more so. And the regime had shown itself willing to go to great lengths in putting down oppositions, shelling and destroying large parts of the city of Hama in 1982 to squash opposition from the Muslim Brotherhood.

But the Syrian people demonstrated in massive numbers in support for democracy and an end to the regime. In response, the Assad regime unleashed unprecedented violence, including an expanded and intensified system of torture and disappearance through their prison system. This was not war against Islamist or terrorists, as the regime often claims, but it was a war against political, domestic opposition. And it continues. Thousands remain in Syrian prisons.

Evidence. The documentary film Syria’s Disappeared documents this war against the pro-democracy activists that has continued throughout the civil war. Director Sarah Afshar, formerly of the BBC’s Newsnight and Panorama news programmes, has drawn on the mountain of evidence being collected about the treatment of detainees in Syrian prisons to produce a devastating indictment of the Assad regime.

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