Iman Obeid, Idlib, Syria
Iman's son was an engineering student and has been detained since 2012. After his arrest, Iman was dismissed from her job in the Idlib municipality. Iman is still living in Idlib, waiting for her son.
At the start of the revolution they took my husband for 15 days. They released him without hurting him, but one month later they arrested my eldest son at a checkpoint. They accused him of being armed. That was ridiculous, it was just the start of the revolution, no one was armed at that point. It was all peaceful.
Our family was targeted by the regime because we were some of the early organisers of the peaceful protests in Idlib. My husband was known for opposing the regime. He was always under their watch. He would tell my sons, we just want some dignity, nothing more. I was also targeted, they came to my workplace at the local municipality to investigate me.
After they released my husband he was under constant surveillance. They kept harassing him, life became impossible. So he escaped the city and went to the rural areas which weren't under regime control. He stayed there for four years. I visited him and had to pass through a lot of checkpoints. Each time they'd question and interrogate me. Then, after the regime was kicked out of Idlib city, he came back home.
My eldest son was arrested on 6th September 2012 and taken to the security branch in Idlib. It was agony. In December that year my youngest son, who was just 14 years old, went to renew his ID card and they arrested him too. He stayed with his older brother in jail for 15 days. Then they separated them. They took both of them from Idlib to the main security branch in Damascus. Then three months later in March 2013 they released my younger son. They just left him out on the street. He was so sick. He had scabies and many infections. They had tortured him in every way. Still now, nine years later, there are torture marks on his body. He told me when they were being transferred from Idlib to Damascus they had to keep their heads down, looking at the ground, otherwise they would be beaten.
When they released him, a woman found him in the street. She felt so sorry for him that she took him home and found a way to send him back to me in Idlib. I can't describe my feelings when I opened the door and saw him. It was a very strange feeling, he looked totally different: he was much skinnier and he was bleeding, he smelt terrible. I don't know if I was crying from happiness of seeing him again or sadness of seeing him in that state. He underwent medical treatment for six months before he started to properly recover. Although psychologically I am sure he is still suffering. He felt so guilty that he was released and not his brother.
After that we tried to get him a passport so that he could leave the country. But when he went to get one, they detained him for two hours. It was a warning. I knew that if he stayed he would always be at risk of being arrested again so the safest thing was to send him to where his father was staying. He was just a child. He kept crying saying, ‘no mama I don't want to leave, I want to stay with you.' But for his safety he needed to leave. They made 16 accusations against them. One of them was that he had a tank. Even the judge in Damascus said this was too much, he was a child.
We have received no real information about my older son. We heard a rumour that he died under torture but we can't be sure what actually happened, there has been no proof of anything.
There is always hope. We've heard about detainees who have been released. Many of them have been released with terrible illnesses and psychological scars. A relative of mine who was released came out deaf and mute. But he is recovering. There is always hope. Until I see any proof of my son's death I will always hope that he will come back. He is my son and I will never lose the hope of seeing him again. Many mothers hear news that their child has died but they never believe it. I do not believe it, there's no proof that he's gone. I'm sure he is still there, alive and I will see him again.
The only information we can trust is from people who were in the same detention centre and saw him. Someone told me once that he was very sick and they took him away but no-one is sure if he died. Like so many other families, we've paid people to tell us but we can't trust anything they say. The last time we heard anything was October 2013, when they said he had died under torture. But we didn't believe it. There's no proof.
The regime wants to silence everyone and make people too afraid to speak but we will keep speaking out. We will continue to be the voice of those who've been taken because they don't have a voice. These children took to the streets for us, for our future, for our freedom, for our country. So, in return, it is our duty to be their voices.
I can't describe my feelings about having my son taken from me. When I sleep, when I wake up, when I eat - in every single moment, whatever I am doing I am thinking about my son. How could you forget a piece of your heart? I'm sure that all mothers of detainees feel the same. We met a UN representative a couple of months ago to tell her about our pain. We are trying to deliver our message to the whole world. The international community should hold Assad accountable for his crimes.
When I hear that some countries are sending refugees back to Syria because peace has returned, I ask, what peace do you see? There are jets over our heads all the time. We could get bombed at any moment, we hear the bombs all the time. The economical situation is catastrophic, there are no services. Nobody can walk in the street and feel safe. Just yesterday in this neighbourhood somebody was killed and three injured. The only way to reach peace is to get rid of the regime.
This is our country, we will never leave our country. Our roots are here. It's not Assad's country. He wants us to leave but we will not. And we cannot leave because we need to keep waiting for my son to come home. We are staying and we will wait for him.