Thousands of Syrian women are believed to be incarcerated in the Assad regime's prisons. Little is known about their fate, but those who manage to escape tell tales of horror.
Muna Muhammad remembers every tiny detail. The stench in the cells, the pain, her torturers. "He pulled a black plastic bag over my head and then he hung me from the ceiling, head down," the 30-year-old says.
The memory still haunts her. The guard said he was going to leave her hanging from the ceiling until all her "evil thoughts land in this bag," she remembers.
Muna was a music teacher before she was arrested in 2012 for participating in protests against President Bashar Assad in Deir ez-Zor. She was released, then rearrested and taken to the infamous Military Intelligence Branch 215 facility in Damascus — inmates call it "branch of hell" because torture is a daily occurrence.
For months, Muna was locked up in solitary confinement or packed together with other inmates. "One day they interrogated a 16-year-old," she says. "I heard her scream. It was so loud. I thought they must be killing her."
Many women were sexually abused, Muna says, adding that she also faced the threat of rape if she didn't confess.
Hygiene conditions at the prison were a disaster, says Muna, explaining that the inmates were not always allowed access to toilets or showers. There were children, too. "I remember a woman and her daughter," Muna says. "Her cell was very small and dark, the girl cried all the time, and again and again, she tried to peer underneath the door, hoping for a bit of daylight."
Muna was eventually granted amnesty and released. In 2016, she managed to flee to Turkey, where she still lives today in Gaziantep, a city that has become a haven for half a million Syrians.
No one knows exactly how many women are imprisoned in Syria. "More than 7,000," estimates Fadel Abdul Ghani, head of a nongovernmental organization that documents human rights violations in the Syrian war.