Yaman Qadri, an enchanting-looking Syrian teenager, would like us, as part of the international community, to keep pressuring the Assad regime in Syria to open the door to freedom and democracy. She is speaking as someone who has experienced some of the worst excesses of the regime - attacked by its security thugs, beaten up, held in solitary confinement, threatened with death and forced to listen to other prisoners being tortured, night after long night.
A few days ago, Qadri, 19, arrived in Montreal, welcomed by family members who spent weeks last year in a torment of anxiety, not knowing whether she was alive or dead. She is here on a student visa. Last fall, word of her detention and disappearance spread across the Internet, provoking outrage, both at home and around the world. Online petitions were launched and Syrians, especially women, marched for the young woman they called the “flower of Damascus.”
At the time she was detained, Qadri was a secondyear medical student at the University of Damascus. “The centre of Damascus is relatively safe,” she said. “That meant we could all go to our classes in safety while people were being killed in other cities and even in the suburbs of Damascus.” She decided she should get involved in the protests.
She and three other students printed up thousands of flyers in red, green, white and blue, with slogans such as “Stop killing” and “Syria belongs to us, not the Assad family.” On Oct. 10, they took the flyers to the top floor of a four-storey medical lab building, taking care to choose one without any indoor cameras. State surveillance cameras appeared all over Syria’s cities once the uprising started.
Qadri watched as the brightly coloured flyers fell to the courtyard. “Students picked them up but as soon as they saw the anti-Assad slogans, they dropped them as fast as they could.”
Unfortunately for Qadri and her fellow students, the building they chose had outdoor cameras, allowing security guards to track them down. On Nov. 3, a day after students finally mounted a protest at the university, Qadri and a male student who was also involved in the flyer protest were detained by security guards and university staff.
“There were three women and three men,” Qadri said. “They took me into a small guardhouse and began hitting me and pushing me. I was screaming. I was scared. When another student protested, saying, ‘Why are you hitting her?’ they arrested him.”
Finally, an unmarked car came to get her. When she bent down to enter the car, she recoiled in fear. A man holding a large firearm was sitting in the back seat, staring at her. “I had no idea who they were, no idea where I was being taken. They told me I was being taken to a place where no one would find me. They told me I would never see my family again.”
That place turned out to be a security building, with cells in the basement. Her “interview” took place in an office. She sat on a plastic chair. Two men stood on either side of her and the interrogator sat across from her. When he didn’t like her answers, the men beside her hit her hard. She was also hit all over her body with an electric prod. As she was escorted, crying, back to her cell, she became aware of other prisoners, all men, praying for her, calling out words of encouragement.
She spent 23 days in another prison, her solitary cell between two interrogation rooms. The torture sessions started at 9 p.m. and lasted into the small hours of the morning. Qadri said she was terrified at first. She prayed for the men being tortured.
She herself was not physically harmed again after the first night. “I decided I did nothing wrong, so I told them the truth, that the flyers were my idea,” she said. “They couldn’t understand how an 18-year-old girl could have her own ideas,” Qadri said. “They kept trying to convince me that they were good people and that the people they were torturing were murderers and rapists. They couldn’t understand why people wanted freedom. ‘What is freedom to you?’ they kept asking.
“They hope that by torturing people they will make them renounce the uprising, but even after all the torture and the killings, people are not stopping. Even people who thought (Syrian president Bashar) Assad would reform the government have given up hope and joined the protests.”
All four of the students involved in the flyer protest were jailed: One student was for a day, Qadri for 23 days, a third student for a month and a fourth student for four months. Once she was released, Qadri’s parents insisted she leave Syria immediately.
Qadri is convinced the Assad regime will fall. “The wall of fear that kept it in place is down,” she said. “The feeling of generalized despair is gone. Young people feel they have an important role to play. I believe that we will win.”
Syria’s main opposition group on Thursday called for a nationwide student strike after pro-government forces killed four students in Aleppo and arrested some 200 following anti-regime protests.
In a statement, the Syrian National Council (SNC), an exile umbrella opposition organization, urged the strike “in solidarity with students at Aleppo University.”
The university in Syria’s second city and commercial hub was shut down Thursday until final exams after a night-time raid by regime forces that monitors say left four students dead and 28 wounded, three of them critically.
About 200 students were also detained in the assault that took place following an anti-regime protest on campus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Activists and students said security forces raided the dormitories, threw out students and their belongings and torched some of the rooms.
Witnesses said some of the students jumped out of windows to avoid arrest.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory, said the events in Aleppo could mark a turning point for the northern city which has largely been spared the unrest shaking the country for nearly 14 months.
“The city of Aleppo hasn’t joined the anti-regime revolt thus far but the seriousness of these events will push residents to mobilise in solidarity with the students,” he told AFP.
“Security forces stormed the university in response to increased student protests lately inside and outside the campus,” he added.
“The university suspended classes because neither the management nor the security forces seem able to control the situation.”
In a video posted by activists on YouTube, heavy gunfire and screams are heard while dozens of men, identified as members of the security and intelligence services, are seen entering the campus.
The video could not be authenticated as Syrian authorities have restricted access to foreign media.
Several protests in solidarity with the Aleppo students broke out Thursday in various universities across the country, activists said.
The SNC called on authorities to reopen the university, the second largest in the country, and for students detained to be released.
It also urged student unions across the Arab world to show solidarity with their Syrian counterparts and for UN observers monitoring a tenuous ceasefire in the country to investigate the unrest in Aleppo.
The UN-backed truce went into effect April 12 but has failed to take hold with both sides to the conflict in Syria accused of violations.
Overall, more than 11,000 people have died in Syria since the revolt against the regime of Bashar al-Assad broke out in March last year, according to the Observatory.
05/03/12 #Syria Students after having been evicted from their dormitories at Aleppo University by shabiha