Islam al-Dabbas had participated in peaceful protests in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus where in the early months of the uprising, people offered water and flowers to the army and security forces trying to end demonstrations. Now his brother Mohamed considers himself lucky, because Islam and their father, Khairo, are “just detained, not dead.”
“We wanted to send a message: these protests are peaceful,” said Mohamed. “My father and brother did nothing more than peacefully ask for justice and freedom.”
Khairo was arrested at a friend’s home in Daraya in early July 2011 by people a witness believed were Air Force Intelligence agents who were supervising arrests in the area. The agents told Khairo they would release him if he pledged not to participate in demonstrations, and if Islam, his 23-year-old son, surrendered to the authorities, conditions the father refused. After he spent three months of incommunicado detention in an Air Force Intelligence branch and three months in Sednaya Military Prison in Damascus, authorities transferred him to Adra Central Prison in Damascus, as he told his family members when they were finally able to visit.
During his trial before the Damascus-based Counterterrorism Court, the judge did not examine the evidence presented, no witnesses were called, and his lawyer was not allowed to present a defense. The court convicted him of “participating in and inciting protests” and sentenced him to 15 years in prison, which he started serving in the Adra prison in January 2013.
Islam, Khairo’s oldest son among five children, was an engineering student in his second year of college when security forces arrested him on July 22, 2011 shortly after his father was detained. Before his arrest, Islam had organized peaceful protests as part of the Daraya Youth group, many of whose nonviolent activists have been detained. Numerous photos taken during protests show him handing out water bottles to members of the army and protesters alike. The family was able to visit him once in Sednaya, a year ago, but since then, the government has not given his family any information about his whereabouts or well-being and has denied relatives’ requests to visit.
“Our lives have completely changed since my father and brother got arrested,” Mohamed said. “We have been waiting for them for two years now. The house is so quiet and sad without them. It feels like a cloud of sadness has engulfed my family, and we keep praying for their release.”
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