Security forces arrested 19-year-old Mohamed Nour al-Shemali on December 1, 2012, as he walked through the gates of Aleppo University, a friend told Human Rights Watch. Mohamed and a second friend were on their way to interview internally displaced Syrians who were taking shelter in the university dormitories. Through such interviews, Mohamed documented abuses by the Syrian government, and he regularly discussed his findings with international media. The security forces, including members of Military Intelligence, had deployed to the university after a wave of student protests in 2012, and they detained both of the young men.
At the time of his arrest, Mohamed was carrying his laptop and a camera in his bag. His friend worries that videos of his media interviews stored on his computer could have endangered Mohamed during interrogation. Mohamed’s family fears that under torture, he may have confessed to participating in protests, and that security forces could punish Mohamed and the family.
A relative of Mohamed’s told Human Rights Watch that the family found out about his arrest from other students who witnessed it. More than eight months after Mohamed’s arrest, his family still has no idea where security agents are holding him or why. Mohamed’s 49-year-old father is extremely worried about him: he looks for and visits others released from detention in the hope that they might know something about his son.
A detainee who was recently released told relatives that he had seen Mohamed in a detention facility run by Military Intelligence in Damascus, though someone else had previously told the relatives he had seen him in the Military Intelligence branch in Aleppo. “The person who saw him in Aleppo told us he had been tortured, and the one who saw him in Damascus told us he had lost a lot of weight,” a relative said. That is all the family knows.