Syria’s crackdown: Why did Fawaz die?

Secret police are raiding hospitals to round up people who were injured during anti-government protests

Published on AlJazeera, by Hugh Macleod and a special correspondent, Last Modified 24 May 2011.

Fawaz al-Haraki had only minutes to live.

As the shots rang out, Abu Haidar and the other protesters ran for cover, grimly familiar with what to do when the mukhabberat (secret police) attacked.

But Fawaz fell, the blood soaking his trousers where the bullet from a Syrian secret policeman had torn into his leg. 

It was Friday April 22 in the industrial city of Homs, famous for being the nation’s main producer of jokes and cement.

Few are laughing for Homs or its dirty factory these days. Last Friday, 11-year-old Aiham al-Ahmad became the latest among dozens of people killed in Homs since the city rose up in some of the largest numbers yet seen to call for freedom and an end to the Assad family’s 41-year-old dictatorship.

As the bullets sparked off the street around them, Abu Haidar and two other protesters hauled 42-year-old Fawaz into a car, desperate to get him to a doctor before his time ran out.

But Fawaz, growing pale under a blanket in the backseat of Abu Haider’s car, was already a dead man: Killed not only by a bullet, but by the regime’s decision – appearing, increasingly, to be systematic – to prevent injured protestors from receiving medical care.

From the moment he was shot until the moment he was buried in the ground, Fawaz’s fate was not in the hands of the doctors, friends and family who wished to save him, but in the hands of secret policemen whose actions ensured that he died, and that as few people knew about it as possible.

Nowhere to go: … //

… ‘They entered the hospital’:

Even without the secret police attacking their car, Abu Haidar said his options for getting Fawaz to a doctor had already been drastically limited: “We were not willing to take him to the national hospital in Homs because we thought he would be arrested and kidnapped there.”

In cases repeated in several different Syrian cities, Al Jazeera has been able to document raids on hospitals by members of the secret police who have snatched injured protestors from their beds and forced them, some on stretchers, into police vehicles where they are driven to what are suspected to be military hospitals.

On April 22, the same day Fawaz died, a young nurse was on duty in the emergency ward of a hospital in Duma, a town 15 km north-east of Damascus, where tens of thousands had been protesting against the regime.

It was her fifth consecutive Friday on call. Before the protests began, the emergency department would receive three or four people per day, usually from car accidents, she said. This Friday, as before, the hospital would admit 30 to 40 emergency cases, almost all of them gunshot wounds to the upper body.

“I was in the hospital between eight and nine in the evening when about 20 security men with Kalashnikovs entered the hospital and asked reception to give them the names of all patients submitted that day,” the nurse told Al Jazeera, speaking on the condition that her identity and the name of the hospital not be revealed.

“We were afraid of them. They asked us to bring them all the wounded, not those who were just normally ill.”

The doctors and nurses were made to escort all 30 injured protesters, some of them carried on stretchers, from their beds to the police vehicles.

“I remember a teenager who was injured in his arm. He was exhausted, but they put him in a car anyway and he was crying from the pain. But I couldn’t do anything for him,” said the nurse. “They told us they were taking them to the military and police hospitals to treat them under their observation.”

On the same day, also in Duma, residents formed a human shield around the gates of the private-run Hamdan Hospital, trying to prevent secret police arresting the 25 injured protesters receiving treatment inside.

“This is the last way we have to protect our wounded from being kidnapped by the secret police,” said a man who took part in the human shield, which he said broke up after security forces fired on it and then arrested several injured patients.

In two other suburbs of Damascus, Berze and Maadamiyeh, Al Jazeera spoke to local doctors who said they had resorted to treating injured protestors in private homes or make-shift field clinics after relatives reported loved ones going missing from hospitals.

Also on April 22, a 13-year-old boy from Maadamiyeh died from a gunshot wound, said a local doctor, after secret police beat his father as he tried to get his son to hospital in neighbouring Daraya.

On April 23, an eyewitness in Deraa described to Al Jazeera how he saw military and plain-clothes security officers kill five people around the state hospital before breaking in and carrying out the wounded on stretchers.

In Homs itself, a week after Fawaz died, members of a local tribe stood watch around the Al-Barr private hospital to try and protect wounded protestors from police raids.

On May 5, Homs residents again formed a human shield, this time around the main hospital in Bab al-Sebah, while last Friday three people were killed when security forces opened fire on locals trying to protect a hospital in Homs’ Al-Waar neighbourhood.

“They prevent patients from being taken to hospital,” said a doctor directly involved in treating patients under the custody of the secret police. “It is something horrible. We feel hate towards this security regime.”

Treated or tortured? … (full long text).

Link: Yemen Live Blog, on AlJazeera, May 24, 2011.

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