Because of a letter he wrote to his friends, Riyad Ular, a Turkish student in Syria, spent over 20 years in the regime’s darkest prisons of the political security, the military Sednaya and Adra prison, with his family oblivious to his whereabouts for years.
Ular, 45, came from a middle income family and moved to Syria to finish his higher education at the University of Damascus, learning Arabic in a language institute. His ambition, as he told Zaman al-Wasl, was to become a journalist or writer.
While in Damascus, he heard whispers from friends and acquaintances about the destruction of Hama by former President Hafez al-Assad in the 1980s and about Tadmur (Palmyra) prison in the Syrian desert, from which no one returns and where Rifaat al-Assad executed hundreds of detainees in one night, simply for opposing the regime.
Ular was affected by the events and wrote the shocking story in a letter to his friends in Turkey, exposing the lies of the regime and false pretenses in fighting imperialism.
The letter, however, was intercepted and confiscated by intelligence services and he was arrested in May 1996 with his wife on their way from Aleppo to Damascus. He was tortured in front of his wife, and was beaten with a silicone rod and electric wires, electrocuted and scalded with boiling water to push him to admit that he was in contact with Turkish security.
For almost two years, Riyad remained in solitary underground not knowing where he was. He was then transferred to the politicians’ wing in Sednaya, and for 15 years, he remained a missing person not allowed visits.
After his release, he learned that his family searched for him all over Syria in police departments and intelligence branches in vain. His cellmates then started passing on news about him secretly until his family learned of his place of detention in Sednaya prison. After two years of failed attempts, Riyad’s brother was eventually allowed to see him for one minute in 2010, after which the brother was threatened by prison officers that he’d take Riyad’s place if he ever came back again, so he stopped visiting.
Ular was put on trial at the State Security Court, where infamous judge Fayez Al-Nouri sentenced him to death, which was changed later to a life sentence. Despite the judge’s notorious cruelty, Al-Nouri seemed like he couldn’t read or understand the content of the case against him. Ular said that he saw him take a sealed envelope and read the ruling on it, with the sentences most likely coming directly from the Presidential Palace and the National Security Office.
After he was transferred to Damascus Central Prison, Ular was able to obtain a proof of legal presence from the prison, finally finding out that he was sentenced for contact with the Turkish state. “It’s difficult to stay in prison for 15 years without knowing you were charged for or the basis of the sentence. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians suffered the same fate, not knowing why they were imprisoned, while the judge gave out death sentences dealt by others without remorse or mercy,” he said.
According to Amnesty International, the Syrian regime has imposed a state of emergency since 1964, as Syrian security services continue to detain people without arrest warrants, often refusing to reveal their whereabouts for months or even years and torturing them daily.
In accordance with the special courts that were established under the emergency law, such as the Supreme State Security Court, which was replaced by the Terrorism Court in 2011, the files of detainees, including Riyad’s, were transferred to the public defender after 20 years of arbitrary detention, to be released after serving three-quarters of the original sentence that left them with the haunting memories of a painful experience.
Zaman Al Wasl