‘The worst place on earth’: inside Assad’s brutal Saydnaya prison

'the worst place on earth': inside assad's brutal saydnaya prison
‘satellite’ image of Saydnaya prison, based on an Amnesty reconstruction / © DigitalGlobe – Copyright 2016

Syria’s most notorious jail has been a journalistic blank spot. Now ex-detainees and architects have built an accurate model, using ‘ear-witness’ testimony, of the president’s hellish torture house

Samer al-Ahmed remembers the size of the small hatch near the bottom of his cell door because he was regularly forced to squeeze his head through it. The prison guards would then straighten it out, so his throat was pressed against the edge of the hatch, and jump on his head with all their weight, until blood started flowing across the floor.

It is one of the many methods of torture used in Saydnaya military prison, Syria’s most notorious jail, a hidden complex now brought to life in a harrowing interactive digital model as part of Amnesty International’s work to raise awareness of the darkest untold stories of President Assad’s brutal regime.

A black spot on the human rights map, the high-security prison has been off limits to journalists and monitoring groups in recent years. It stands 25km north of Damascus, near the ancient Saydnaya monastery where Christians and Muslims have prayed together for centuries. A mute concrete trefoil is discernible from Google Earth, standing in the centre of a 100-hectare desert compound. Nothing has been known about what goes on inside until now.

To coincide with the launch of a damning new report, which estimates that 17,723 people have died in custody in Syria since the crisis began in March 2011, Amnesty has collaborated with the Forensic Architecture agency at Goldsmiths, University of London, to reconstruct the site. […]