Noura al Hurra managed to secure her release from a Syrian regime prison years ago after 100 days of torture and represents the plight of 7,000 women still locked up in terrible conditions
Nour al Hurra understands what more than 7,000 women Syrian regime prisoners of war must be feeling. As a former prisoner, she experienced brutal arrests and hours of interrogations, not only once, but twice.
“No one who stayed in those prisons once can leave as a strong person,” Hurra tells TRT World.
“I used to be very strong, I had no fear from anything, but I’m not the same person anymore.”
She doesn’t usually use her hijab to cover her face in daily life, but when openly speaking about her chilling experience in the regime’s detention centre in Aleppo, she prefers to obscure her identity. I spoke to Hurra at the Conscience Convoy’s conference which took place in Istanbul and is aimed at bringing attention to the plight of women stuck in Syrian regime prisons.
It’s been more than four years since Hurra's family and friends secured her release from prison, and she feels safe outside of Syria, but her memories keep her in a constant state of fear as the memories of the regime still haunt her.
Since the beginning of war 2011, more than 13.000 women have been detained by the Syrian regime, accused of being traitors -- for protesting arbitrary arrests, the abolition of the country’s 48-year emergency law and for demanding freedom of expression. There are still almost 128,000 political prisoners languishing in Syrian regime prisons. But human rights activists say, women, who often face sexual violence at an unprecedented level as a torture tactic during their detention, are mainly used as weapons of war. Most of the arrests consequently become cases of enforced disappearances.
As part of the regime’s brutal response to the protesters raging in 2012, Hurra was arrested for the first time at the age of 27 during a protest and spent seven days in the prison. What left her feeling vulnerable was when someone she knew as a family friend turned out to be mukhabarat, a regime intelligence agent, and reported her and her sister in May 2014, which led to her second arrest.
Hurra spent 92 days in prison this time, accused of being a ‘terrorist’ because her brother fled Syria for Turkey. She managed to get out of prison when her brother and friends collected money to pay the regime for her release. She left the country eight days later after a mukhabarat officer told her mother that they would be arrested again if they stayed in the country.
“I feel like I didn’t get out of prison yet. I feel I'm still there -- I feel like I’m jailed, I’m still there,” she says unable to hold back her tears whenever she describes her torture, both psychological and physical.
She remembers how she saw her sister’s blood covering the floor of their small cell for a short moment before she was blindfolded and handcuffed for her turn at being interrogated.
The torture left Hurra unable to walk and with an injured back for some time. Everything was done to force the sisters to accept the false accusations they faced.
The plight of Hurra, other former Syrian women prisoners and those still suffering in prison have not been forgotten.
Aisha al Qassar, an activist and teaching assistant for Public International Law at Kilaw University in Qatar, tells TRT World says she is working with human rights organisations to help former women prisoners to get back on their feet again, as well as demanding the release of current prisoners.
“One of them is raising a report for International Criminal Court (ICC), and another one is preparing funding for those women who released from the prison, who need medical care and psychological support — who tortured and struggled during the detention,” she says.
“All refugees need support --men and women. But the detained woman, who has been released after detention needs special care,” she says.
Al Qassar is currently working with the Conscience Movement - the NGO that organised the press conference in Istanbul - which aims to bring to attention the women who are being tortured and unlawfully held in Syrian prisons and to work towards the unconditional release of all women prisoners.
Last year, the group brought together around 10,000 women from 55 different countries in Hatay, a Turkish city bordering Syria to show solidarity for female prisoners in Syria and demand their unconditional release.
Public figures, including Nelson Mandela’s son Nkosi Mandela, Ukrainian MP Dr Olga Bogomolets, the UK’s first Muslim MP Hon Baroness Pola Ana Belen Marin Aguirre came together for the Istanbul conference this year, along with activists from 45 countries, supported by 2,000 NGOs from all around the world. The group is planning a major protest on the International Women’s Day in March this year.
Mustafa Ozbek, the group’s spokesperson, told TRT World that their organisation would not limit itself to protests in Turkey and it will not stop until the last woman prisoner is released in Syria.
Hurra, who also actively supports the movement along with other former prisoners, says some of her friends’ fate is still unknown. She hasn’t heard from the ones who were unable to secure release.
“They're just waiting for a word of hope for them,” she says.
“Take them out -- it's absolutely unbearable.”