November 18, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 44  

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NEWS

Western link to Syrian torture case

By Dan Perry
Gazette Staff

The horrors of Syrian imprisonment that Maher Arar recounted in his press conference Nov. 4 — calling for a public inquiry into his deportation from the United States and subsequent detention — is a story much closer to home. Arar told of another Canadian, Abdullah Almalki, who is still imprisoned and being tortured in Syria. His brother, Western medical student Youssuf Almalki, shared his brother’s story with The Gazette.

“The first definite indication that he was being investigated was in January of 2002. The RCMP exectuted a sealed warrant on his residence [in Canada],” Almalki said.

According to Almalki, the warrant was served under the anti-terrorism act known as Bill C-36, while Abdullah was out of country. “His wife was pregnant with her fifth child — they went to Malaysia before she gave birth so she could see her mom.” The family was planning to be back by Christmas in 2001, but she was advised not to fly because of her pregnancy.

On their way home in May 2002, Abdullah returned to Syria for the first time since 1987 to see his parents. Upon arrival there, he was detained, Almalki said. “Before [going to] Syria, you check with the government if there’s anything on you and if there’s nothing on you, they’ll tell you you’re welcome to come. Syria didn’t have anything on him; the only place he’s being investigated is Canada.”

Almalki said no charges have been laid in either country. “He’s been detained in Syria for 18 months now — he hasn’t had access to a lawyer. And there has been no consular access.

“We learned the details of his torture from the [Arar] press conference. He’s being beaten with electrical cables, he’s being placed into a tire and being beaten on the soles of his feet. He’s being hung upside down and being beaten that way too.”

Both brothers are Syrian citizens, which requires them to complete military service, but Almalki said that does not explain Abdullah’s detention.

“I’ve been delayed; as a student, or if you live outside of Syria, you can delay [military service] five years at a time. If he was found delinquent of military service, then it would be only three months detention.”

Almalki said he has been with his family in Ottawa since the Arar conference. “We met with [the Department of] Foreign Affairs [and] we’re trying to meet with [Minister] Bill Graham, which is really disappointing. You’d expect they’d be right on this. Up until now, Foreign Affairs has been practicing their ‘quiet diplomacy’ — and it’s so quiet that it’s not being heard.

“Foreign Affairs learned of his detention and sent a diplomatic note in August of 2002. They got a reply to it in April of 2003, acknowledging Syria had him. That’s quiet diplomacy. After the news conference, Mr. Graham met with the Syrian ambassador and asked him to investigate. [He did] not ask them to release him, did not call the Syrian Foreign Affairs counterpart; he only spoke with the ambassador, as far as we know.”

Youssuf said the support from Western has been inspiring.

“People have expressed proactive outrage. My family and I are touched by the number of e-mails we’ve gotten from the Western [community]. You kind of lose hope in people when you hear about torture, but [the support] kind of brings back your hope in people.

“The story of my brother is horrible — no question. But how it affects you and I and everyone walking down the streets is the bigger picture. I just hope that people do something and I thank those that have.”

Almalki said those that want to help can contact the Prime Minister’s Office by e-mail at pm@pm.gc.ca. “[But] when you write a letter you have to make a specific request: ‘We want you to contact the Syrian president directly and request the immediate return to Canada of Abdullah Almalki.’ It’s amazing — each letter they get is worth a thousand voices,” he said. Anyone interested in Abdullah’s case can learn more about it online at www.amnesty.ca.

“I’m jeopardizing my career right now; I’m in my last year of medical school,” Youssuf added. “But if it gets my brother back, it’s all worth it.”

 

 

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