How Forensic Architecture Revealed Details Of A Secret Military Prison In Syria

There are no images of Assad's brutal Saydnaya prison, so a group of architects relied on prisoners' sound memories to create a 3D model

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How Forensic Architecture Revealed Details Of A Secret Military Prison In Syria
© Amnesty International/Explore Saydnaya

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How Forensic Architecture Revealed Details Of A Secret Military Prison In Syria
© Amnesty International/Explore Saydnaya

Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Syrian authorities under president Bashar Hafez al-Assad have quietly carried out the systematic killing and torture of thousands in its custody at Saydnaya Military Prison, located just outside of Damascus. Earlier this month, the human rights organization Amnesty International released a report that claimed as many as 13,000 people were hanged in Saydnaya over the past five years in what they termed a “policy of extermination.”

The report, which can be downloaded and read in full here, details the horrors experienced by the detainees and calls for an “independent and impartial investigation into crimes committed at Saydnaya.” To aid them with their campaign for independent monitoring of the prison, Amnesty collaborated with Forensic Architecture, a research agency at Goldsmiths, University of London that uses “architectural evidence” to work on behalf of international prosecutors, human rights organizations, and political justice groups. Together, they’ve created an interactive model of Saydnaya prison—a place completely closed off to outsiders—using only aerial satellite images and the testimonies of former detainees.

Many architects refuse to design spaces for inhumane imprisonment, killing, or torture, under the belief that it would make them complicit in those acts. For Forensic Architecture, recreating the design of one of the most inhumane prisons in the world was crucial for holding the Syrian government accountable for the atrocities being carried out there in secret. In April 2016, the architects traveled with a team from Amnesty International to Istanbul to meet five former detainees who had survived Saydnaya. […]

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