Read Michael Weiss:
While rumours of women being raped have run rampant in Syria since the early months of the uprising, first person testimonies have been harder to come by. This is owing to both an Arab cultural stigma on the subject and to fears of regime reprisals. Many of these rape victims have already lost parents or children to the state’s barbarism. They’re told if they want to keep the one who are left, they’ll keep quiet.
I spoke yesterday to a Syrian expat living in Washington, D.C. who asked to be identified as Farha Ghazi. She left her native Hama 18 years ago and has lately been working with Syrian women’s organisations. I’d been put in touch with Farha by a Syrian doctor friend of mine, and I knew broadly what to expect from our conversation. Still, nothing in a year’s worth of reporting on the carnage and misery of this country has chilled me more than what Farha told me.
Salma was a young girl in Baba Amr whose house was raided last February by the shabbiha – pro-Assad mercenary militias – when that rebel-held neighbourhood in Homs fell after a month-long siege. “She told them, ‘Please, please – don’t you have sisters? Don’t you have mothers?’”, Farha said. “Just leave me, please not in front of my dad.’” They didn’t listen. Instead, the shabbiha strapped Salma’s father to a chair in his own house and forced him to watch as three or four men raped his daughter. “They made him keep his eyes open and watch.”
This is standard practice now in Assad’s Syria. Boys and men might be spirited away to a mukhabarat dungeon for torture, but the women are done over in their own homes, in front of their families.
Gene adds: As for the shabbiha, you can get an idea of what they’re all about from this ironic “tribute” video: