Witness 17 (referred to in the following text as W 17), aged 35, is a Sunni Muslim who lived in Damascus. In 2011, when Bashar al-Assad's government oversaw the quelling of the peaceful protests in Syria and a growing number of people were fleeing and seeking refuge within Syria, W 17 got involved in efforts to provide medical care to internally displaced Syrians in Duma, a neighborhood in northeastern Damascus. She was targeted by Assad's air intelligence service as a result of this work and was imprisoned.
W 17 was detained by Air Force Intelligence at the al-Mezzeh Special Operations Branch and the al-Mezzeh Investigation Branch. She was tortured several times. Around 15 days after she was arrested, while in the al-Mezzeh Intelligence Branch, she was blindfolded and brought to a room where, after removing her blindfold, she was forced to watch as a man she knew was being tortured. Afterwards, she was beaten until she was unconscious. When she regained consciousness, her back felt like it was broken. She was deaf in one ear for two months after this incident. And that was just the beginning, as she explained to ECCHR.
Over the next nine months, W 17 was regularly harassed, degraded and beaten. She witnessed the torture of other women and men several times. She was forced to listen to the desperate screams of the other detainees. One day, while walking towards the toilets, she saw a room with six men hanging from the ceiling, blood dripping from their bodies. When the guard noticed that W 17 had seen this, he beat her to the ground. The ground was covered in blood. This was because in many cases after the detainees were tortured, the unconscious or dead bodies were dragged across the hallway and back into the cells. W 17 also described to ECCHR the appalling conditions of detention in al-Mezzeh. For example, she explained how "one cell was in the cellar, it smelled like blood and death."
During most of her time there, she was crammed into a small cell with up to 19 other women. There were cockroaches, ants, and other insects everywhere; almost all detainees developed skin conditions such as scabies. To eat, W 17 says that the detainees were given moldy bread, halfcooked rice, and dirty tomato sauce. Basic things like accessing toilet facilities were transformed into acts of torture. Sometimes, the detainees would be beaten and humiliated as they made their way there; at other times, the corridor to the toilets would be blocked. Describing the toilet facilities, she says: "There was urine everywhere, it smelled horrible. Some of the toilets were blocked and you had to walk across urine and excrement." Once W 17 saw a guard forcing a man to eat his own excrement; and when the man refused, he was beaten.
When W 17 was released, she fled via Turkey and along the Balkan route to Germany where she has lived since early 2016.