“I had to tell him four times who I was before he finally recognised me”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of a Syrian reporter for the pro-Damascus TV channel Al-Ikhbariya who has been held by northeastern Syria’s autonomous Kurdish government since 2019 and whose health is deteriorating dangerously because he has been on hunger strike for more than month.
“We call for Mohamad Al-Saghir’s immediate release,” RSF’s Middle East desk said. “How can the Kurdish authorities remain indifferent to the horrifying accounts about his state of health? His imprisonment is arbitrary, the conditions in which he is being held are inhuman, and he was convicted on trumped-up charges.”
Mohamad Tawfik Al-Saghir has lost an enormous amount of weight since he stopped eating on 19 July in protest against his imprisonment, and he is now unrecognisable. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who control the north and east of Syria, have been holding him ever since he was arrested at a checkpoint in June 2019 after filming a fire in wheatfields outside the city of Al-Hasakah.
Accused of starting the fire, “distorting the facts” in his reporting and “misleading public opinion,” he was sentenced to 25 years in prison by an anti-terrorism military court. His family deny all of the charges.
“These charges were trumped-up and they even made him sign a confession under torture,” a member of his family told RSF. “In reality, it was the SDF who set fire to the fields of farmers who were refusing to sell their harvests.”
Cut off from the outside world in a military prison in Al-Hasakah city’s Ghuwayran neighbourhood, he is sharing a cell with former Islamic State fighters, according to Cham Times, a pro-Damascus news site. It wasn’t until 2021, two years after his arrest, that his family was allowed to visit him.
“I saw a man standing in front of me and I asked the prison guard who he was,” a member of the family said. “I was amazed. He weighed barely 40 kilos. He told me he has had several strokes as a result of being beaten with an electric baton”. Al-Saghir is suffering from partial amnesia and could lose his memory altogether. “I had to tell him four times who I was before he finally recognised me,” the relative added.
Although Al-Saghir's health is visibly deteriorating, the authorities refuse to grant him appropriate medical care. In addition to the psychological after-effects of the torture to which he was subjected following his arrest, he has suffered many strokes, the latest of them in September 2021.
The SDF did not respond to messages left by RSF.