Secret Service prisons in Syria: The Shell

Some consider the novel “The Shell” to be the most important book for understanding Syria. It was published in German in 2019. The author, Mustafa Khalifa, describes his experiences of imprisonment in prisons of the Syrian secret services in the literary form of diary entries. He himself spent 12 years of his life in these prisons, four of them in the infamous desert prison of Tadmor. About 10,000 prisoners are said to be locked up there permanently. Khalifa describes precisely and factually experiences of torture and humiliation in the secret interior of the Syrian regime. This regime bases its power, among other things, on the rivalry between a number of secret services. Each secret service has its own prisons and torturers. Khalifa describes their standardised methods, which he experienced first-hand: Flogging, beatings, ” tyres”, “flying carpet”, “German chair”, electric shocks, hanging by the arms from the ceiling. The author also describes how veteran secret service officers incite young cadets to torture, how government officials fly in with helicopters for executions. Thousands of Syrians died in the prisons of the secret service. The German Attorney General recently charged two former Syrian secret service officers with multiple crimes against humanity and murder in Syrian prisons. Khalifa had been imprisoned long before the beginning of the “Arab Spring” in 1982. Like many others, nobody put him on trial, his imprisonment was without a court verdict. He came from a left-wing oppositional family and only learned of the charges against him years after his imprisonment began. An informer had reported a critical statement of the writer at a party in Paris to Syria. Khalifa’s concern is to testify about the events in the prisons. In a radio programme on Deutschlandfunk radio he said his motto: “You must resist the logic of torture.” The goal of torture is to break people, to turn them into nothing. In the end, the hero in the book “The Shell” refuses to make any concession or gesture of submission to the regime. Khalifa now lives in exile in France. His book was published in French in 2007 and has since been translated into six languages.

Mustafa Khalifa: “The Shell: Memoirs of a Hidden Observer” Translated from Arabic by Larissa Bender, Weidle Verlag 2019, 312 pages, 23 euros.

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Foto: tünews INTERNATIONAL; A. A, 28.05.2020

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