In the underground cell where she was tormented, she asked security watchmen to take her three-month-old child, Omar, to doctor’s facility for the medical attention he urgently required.
Seven months back, Ottoman was discharged after assistance from a legal counselor. In any case, such was the injury she endured physically and mentally that she was compelled to put her child, now three, in a halfway house until the point that she was sufficiently fit to look after him.
He said monitors are desperately needed to investigate the conditions in prisons run by the government and opposition forces. “So far the regime has blocked the UN from allowing monitors in. However, UN war crimes investigators entered Syria in the wake of the chemical weapons attack in April, so we’ve seen them break that precedent when there has been the political will from the international community.”
“There are thousands of people suffering every day inside these hellholes without help or legal support. Their families don’t know where they are or what is happening to them, and that is causing a huge amount of trauma.”
It found the Syrian government ordered the killings at Saydnaya prison as part of a wider extermination policy. Many thousands more died through torture and starvation at the death camp.
The majority of female prisoners are held in Adra prison in Damascus, according to Amnesty. In the early days of the uprising female detainees were mainly political activists or humanitarian workers. But as the crisis escalated it became more common for other women, often relatives of opposition fighters, to be arrested and used as bargaining chips, sometimes for prisoner swaps.
One former detainee who has since fled Syria and is living in Manchester, where the exhibition will be staged, has told how she feared for her life and was regularly tortured. Before the uprising in 2011, Asmaa, then 27, was studying childhood development and living in Daraa, the first city that started protesting against the government. She undertook training to become a first aid responder and started attending the demonstrations regularly.
She told the Guardian: “It was a terrifying experience. I was put in a small cramped cell and then my friend was tortured in front of me. They used electric cables and hit him with a wooden board. To this day I don’t know if he is still detained or whether he is dead or alive.”
During her time in prison Asmaa, who did not want her surname to be published, said she was frequently beaten and tortured. “They would hit us and electrocute us. They could take you for interrogation at any time. One thing that kept me going was that I didn’t want to give the names of my friends [also involved in activism] so I tried to withstand the abuse.”
Asmaa was taken to military court four times but on each occasion the judge would refuse to hear her case. There were people on the outside campaigning for her release but without success. One friend who went to the prison to ask about her was detained for seven months.
“When they came to my cell and said, ‘Get out!’, I couldn’t believe it and I started kicking and screaming. I was scared I would be executed or taken to an unknown location. There are many women who are transferred, and we never hear from them again.”
After her release Asmaa fled to Jordan where she continued her activism before she applied for refugee status in the UK.
Asmaa has been working with Rethink Rebuild Society, a Manchester-based group that works towards improving the lives of Syrians in Britain. She has been instrumental in preparing the exhibition featuring the stories of female detainees.
Yasmine Nahlawi, a research coordinator for the organisation, said she hoped the event would help work towards justice and closure for the featured detainees and their families.