Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- A Syrian family living in Washington has decided to file a lawsuit against the Syrian Government and its security organizations that would compel them to reveal the fate of one of the family”s sons who disappeared in 1979.
Asharq al-Awsat has learnt from sources close to the family of Syrian citizen Muhammad Zuhayr al-Basha that the family, in collaboration with other families in similar predicaments to work with US courts in order to obtain the release of those detained for many years, or at least to know of their fate.
According to Asharq al-Awsat sources, US Congress members encouraged the Syrian families to file lawsuits against the Syrian regime in US courts, to punish those responsible for the absence or torture of the families” sons.
One of these involves the case of Syrian citizen Muhammad Zuhayr al-Basha, who was born in 1957. Muhammad”s father has confirmed to Asharq al-Awsat that his son”s fate has been unknown since the Syrian Intelligence services arrested him in Damascus University 28 years ago.
Asharq al-Awsat met Al-Basha in his house in one of Washington”s suburbs. He related the story of his absent son. He said:
"My son, Muhammad Reem, was born in 1957. He was very intelligent, and he incredibly loved reading. He did not restrict himself to my huge library, but he wanted more, and he used to spend all his pocket money on buying books. He was a student in the Faculty of Law at Damascus University. He was diligent and hardworking in his studies, and he would spend most of his time reading and studying his curricula. He was my eldest son. On 11 July 1979, he said goodbye to his mother, went to university, and has never returned ever since. We never knew his whereabouts or heard any news of him. It was a very difficult night that cannot be described. The following day,
I went with his mother to the university. We asked his colleagues, but they said that he did not come to the university the previous day. We asked family and friends, but they knew nothing about
His whereabouts; we enquired at every hospital and police station, but to no avail.
We became very afraid, and we quickly hid his books by burying them on our friend”s land, but he soon burnt them out of fear for the safety of himself and his family.
We did not dare to ask about my son at the intelligence centers for fear of destroying the entire family, which used to be the case in Syria. However, people spoke and the news spread quickly, and within three days of his disappearance, I was summoned to the security intelligence center in Al-Khatib Street. Captain Adnan al-Huluw interrogated me, and I was exposed to physical and psychological torture. I could see and hear those being tortured in the center. My two sons, Tamim and Wasim, were also pressured and summoned to interrogation. Our house became a target for the intelligence officers."
Al-Bash continued, "I started to ask those who knew had connections to some departments of the regime to help me obtain any information about my lost son, Muhammad Reem. Some asked me for exorbitant sums of money in hard currency in exchange for letting me see him from a far distance, from which I could not distinguish whether it was my son or not. When I asked to see him at a closer distance to distinguish and identify him, I was asked to pay double the sum, of which I did not have and was not able to provide, because as they were taking huge amounts from me since his disappearance."
In his story, Al-Basha added: "In 1987, my daughter Buthaynah told me that a very close friend of hers informed her that one of their acquaintances also was in prison and was released, and he said that he met my son Muhammad Reem during a rare break. This happened in took place in the prison courtyard for a few minutes. They had paper bags on their heads so that the prisoners would not recognize each other; however, both of them lifted the bags quickly and simultaneously, and recognized each other as they were colleagues before their imprisonment."
Al-Basha added, "My wife could not bear all this, and became ill with high blood pressure. She also became an insomniac because of her fear for the rest of the family, and the doctor started to give her tranquilizers so that she could sleep. The situation developed into a heart attack that led to her death in the United States in 1989 after she went into a coma."
The father also gave some of his own biographical data; he said, "I was born in Damascus in 1931. I have a B.A. from the Arabic Language Department of the Faculty of Arts of Damascus University. I was a teacher, and then I won a competition and joined the Ministry of Culture and Guidance in 1959, and worked in a number of departments of the ministry. From 1972, they started to exert pressure on me, because I am a writer who does not agree with the totalitarian ideology of the Ba”th Party. I have been and still am a supporter of democracy, and I respect an opinion and its opposed opinion; this is what I always indicated in my writings. I was summoned several times by the then minister of culture, Mr. Fawzi al-Kayyali, to the extent that he tried to force me to join the Socialist Ba”th Party, and to adhere to the Ba”th ideology in my writings, but I refused. As a result, Minister Al-Kayyali transferred me against my wish, to another department in the ministry as an employee without work. The same happened with Minister Najah al-Attar. I was placed under tighter siege, and then they forced me to submit my resignation."
Al-Basha continued his story: "I was prevented from writing. My comedy plays, which I wrote earlier for production in the theaters of Damascus were banned. Then I returned to teaching, my first profession. I was offered the opportunity to continue with my writing, provided that it would be loyal to the regime, but I refused and opted to continue in the education field. After that, I was prevented from teaching in public schools and institutions. They tightened the siege around me, but I opted for giving private tuition at home in order to be able to support my family."
Al-Basha continued, "Because I criticized the policy of interfering in Lebanese affairs and the entry of the Syrian forces into Lebanon, I was summoned to the military intelligence branch in Baghdad Street. I went to the branch in the morning as instructed, and all day I was exposed to physical as well as psychological torture, as I was hearing the torture of others taking place in the branch. In the evening I was taken to interrogation. The chief interrogator was Adnan al-Huluw, who was the brother-in-law of the then deputy prime minister, Muhammad Haydar. That was after the disappearance of my son, Muhammad Reem. They used to summon me to military intelligence every month to renew the interrogations, or to raid the house to interrogate my wife and children and to search the house. This continued to the extent that neighbors and relatives would fear visiting us and avoid us, fearing that they might expose themselves to interrogation because of their acquaintance with us. We became isolated. All this made us think of leaving and going to the United States. At the same time, we were afraid of revealing our destination, therefore, we started leaving one by one without mentioning the United States, and we were claiming that we were going to visit my sick daughter in London so that we would not be exposed to further interrogation and questioning. My children started to leave without the neighbors realizing, and even our close friends believed that we were going to London, and not to the United States, until I sold my house to my niece, and told them that I was going to Aleppo. My greatest problem was to obtain an exit visa, which cost me a huge sum of money. I obtained the visa in September 1988 and met all the members of my family, who left before me, except my eldest daughter Wafa, who resides in London with her husband and family."
Al-Basha explained that years before that, "My daughter Buthaynah went to study in the United States in February 1983 and was followed by my son Wasim in October 1983."
Al-Basha concluded his interview by saying that, "Despite our living in the United States, we are still fear for our lives because of the Syrian Intelligence organizations and their members abroad."