Bilal Srewel is a Syrian journalist who was arrested on Thursday November 8th in the streets of Afrin by members of Sultan Murad, a Turkish back-up armed militia. He was detained for 72 hours and was violently tortured before being released. His only crime: taking photos.
Through our project “Journalists in Danger”, we will provide him the support he needs and help him to recover. This is his story.
Do you know why you were kidnapped?
Afrin is not a safe place at all, and it’s full of armed groups, every step is risky in Afrin.
So, I was visiting my friend in his pharmacy, when I decided to go out and take some pictures with my camera as I always carry it with me, as part of my journalism job in the Syrian NGO Sawaadna al Souria. A guy came to me and started asking me questions. I introduced myself politely, then he took my camera, made some phone calls and within minutes a care came. They blind folded me and tied my wrists, then I pushed inside the car. However, I was so lucky my friend was watching from inside his pharmacy, otherwise, no one would know where am I and who took me.
My brother, who is also working for Sawaadna al Souria, was informed immediately and started a big media campaign with the Syrian Journalists Association which reached big media channels and especially the Turkish ones.
What is your health condition now? Knowing that you have an injury since you were in Eastern Ghouta, and that you were brutally tortured while kidnapped.
I have a broken rib because of the violent beating. There is nothing to do about it, as it will heal with time. But I am suffering so much pain in my chest and throughout my body.
We know your kidnappers called the Sultan Murad militia, can you tell us more about them?
It is the biggest Turkmen militia supported by Turkey. They are based in Aleppo and Afrin, but I don’t know more about them, as I am new here. I was displaced from Esatern Ghouta.
What was the situation like inside the prison of Sultan Murad?
I was taken to a solitary cell on Thursday night, but was still blindfolded. I was tortured for long hours every day, and I was served some food only the second day. I didn’t want to eat because of the pain and stress but was also afraid to refuse, so I started eating. I was taken for investigation, but they were all speaking in Turkish except for one who spoke Arabic. There were no clear accusations made against me, but a lot of torture.
On Saturday, a guy from the cell next to mine started speaking to me through a tiny hole in the wall, he said he had been there for three months now, and he was being tortured everyday, without any charges.
On Sunday evening, I was released, and they contacted my brother to come and take me with him.
How did you get to Turkey so soon after being released?
After two days of my release, the media campaign became even bigger and my friends started posting pictures of my wounds and bruises caused by torturing everywhere around social media. The Turkish authorities sent a group of security forces to visit me. They wanted to hear my story in detail, and then they asked me if I need any protection, so I asked them to move me to Turkey as I was very scared to stay in Syria. So, they told me: pack your stuff, and come with us to Turkey now.
This is my whole story.
Are you planning to go back to Syria?
I am constantly thinking about it, and I don’t seem to find the answer now. I am alone here, I left my life in Syria, but the man who kidnapped me is still missing, and I don’t feel safe going back, knowing he is not arrested.
Can you tell us more about the man who kidnapped you?
He had gone missing after I was released, his brothers came to my brother’s office at Sawaadna al Souria. They accused my brother of kidnapping him, but he managed to talk to them and explain this is not the case, that we are civilians only and we want to stay safe and out off trouble.