10s of 1000s Exhibition

Their Belongings
The exhibition featured items belonging to disappeared and missing individuals and are now the sole token of remembrance for their families. Click on the items to read their stories and listen to the audio testimonies by their relatives.

Bassel Khartabil Safadi was a Palestinian-Syrian free speech and human rights activist, who was detained by the Syrian government on 15 March 2012, forcibly disappeared on 3 October 2015 and extrajudicially executed in that year. Bassel’s family announced his death on 1 August 2017 after receiving information that he was killed in 2015 after allegedly being “tried” and “sentenced to death” by the military field court in Al-Qaboun, Damascus in a secret hearing.

Bassel Khartabil Safadi will always be remembered as a symbol of courage, who peacefully fought for freedom to the very end.

Bassel left a cap behind.


Abdullah al-Khalil is a Syrian human rights lawyer and the head of the local council for al-Raqqa Governorate. Abdullah al-Khalil had been arrested by government forces five times since 2011 on account of his work as a lawyer defending political prisoners and promoting human rights. On 18 May 2013 he was taken away by unidentified armed individuals as he left his office in the north eastern city of al-Raqqa. On 14 November 2013, his house was seized by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who hung their sign on the front door of the house. Abdullah’s fate and whereabouts remain unknown.

Abdullah left glasses behind.

Click to read more about Abdullah al-Khalil

The audio is a recorded interview with Abdullah’s wife.


Mohammed Issam Zaghloul is a Syrian lawyer and human rights defender from al-Midan neighbourhood in Damascus. He was first arrested on 23 August 2011 after leading a peaceful protest at the Damascus Bar Association, which demanded the release of all prisoners who were arbitrarily detained in Syria. As a condition for his release, he was forced to sign a statement saying he would not be active in protests or “instigate the public against the government” again. He was later abducted on 10 October 2012 by a group of men believed to be affiliated with the government while driving home from work on the Mezzeh highway in Damascus. After his abduction, he was able to contact his family to inform them of what had happened. When the family refused to pay the ransom money that was asked of them, Mohammed was transferred to a branch of Air Force Intelligence in Damascus. His presence there was confirmed by several released detainees. Since then, his family has made official and unofficial inquiries into Mohammed’s whereabouts, none of which has been successful.

Mohammed left a rosary behind.

Click to read more about Mohammed Issam Zaghloul

The audio is a voice-over of an interview with Mohammed’s wife.


Yusef Eido is a 25-year-old Syrian humanitarian worker from al-Khalidiya neighbourhood in Aleppo city. At the time of his arrest, he was working with a local humanitarian aid group to co-ordinate the delivery of food baskets to members of his community. One month prior to his arrest, he was hit in the eye by a sniper bullet in the local marketplace and was told that he would need to travel to Germany for surgery. On 26 December 2012, he went to the local authorities to arrange his visa and never returned.

Yusef left a scarf behind.

Click to read more about Yusef Eido

The audio is a voice-over of an interview with Yusef’s brother, Saeed Eido.


Abd al-Aziz al-Khayyir is a Syrian political figure and the head of the Foreign Affairs Office of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (NCB). He was detained from 1992 until 2005 for his peaceful activities as a member of the Party of Communist Action and considered to be a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. On 20 September 2012, he was arrested by the Air Force Intelligence at a checkpoint after arriving in Damascus following a visit to China on behalf of the NCB. Unofficial sources claim that he was taken to an Air Force Intelligence branch in al-Mezzeh, Damascus, and was then transferred to an unknown location in February 2013. The Syrian authorities deny his arrest and detention and the state news agency, SANA, stated that he has been kidnapped by members of a “terrorist group”. A number of other NCB members also remain detained or subjected to enforced disappearance.

Abd al-Aziz left a wallet behind.

Click to read more about Abd al-Aziz al-Khayyir

The audio is a recorded interview with his wife Fadwa Mahmoud, a prominent activist, former detainee and founding member of Families for Freedom. Fadwa’s son, Maher Tahan, was also arrested and forcibly disappeared with Abd al-Aziz al-Khayyir on 20 September 2012.

The exhibition featured four poetry installations that showcased poems written by Syrian poets who were formerly detained. You can read and listen to the poems by clicking on each of them.
Read by

Despite my not feeling pain again
I still experience pain
for example
in my hand
which follows its pain alone
as if one of them
cut the electrics between me and my limbs
as if
he has imprisoned me outside them
and pretends to forget
that he has taken it from within me
or he takes it far
so you won’t see
what I will feel pain for simply for his sake


I do not turn to stone
having been here for twenty years
my hand doesn’t turn to stone
nor my eyes and soul
despite the storm of cement
and lack of pity


no one tucked me in when in prison
at night,
except God
except the breaths of God
who like a lost gazelle
is dragged along the ground, every night
by sixty swarthy hunters
to my cell
so they can eat
a meal of deprivation


they opened my eyelids with tongs and knives
they revive the covers from their stupor with cold water
from a bucket
of copper
my eyes which no longer see
black and white
like a primitive eye
like a closed eye
except I was ok with that
that was the reason for the obscuring of my sight
but I was ok
with the other parts
and what was left
of the other life
and what was left
was like a person
whose heart became hard in front of the sea
to be certain about
the screams of the drowning
except that
in reality
it was sufficient
and in the end
so that we can pat,
my eye and I,
the shoulders of some of us


I feel pain in this innocent hand
as it festers
it gives out the smell of sulphur
it falls apart
like the flow of a river
with bodies
with rocks
of hope


I feel pain in this innocent hand
it cannot not repel harm
I feel pain
but it doesn’t understand
the meaning of harm
like a child
who they release
in the night
in the woods


Worms drop to the floor
small quick worms
of wounds
and slow
I feel pain in my hand
it cannot lift these worms from the ground
and return them
to their heart


I do not see its pain
in this hated place of mine
I do not know it
but I feel great pain
as if one of them
played a last film
for my hand which has gone
so it can learn alone


I feel pain
because my hand
has got bigger
like this


And thus I live here
I’m scared I will die
and my hand will remain
in agony
falling apart
around me

Read by

iron clenched imprisoned with me for years
in this land
for millions of years
from searing shock
from the searing, singular, fearful gaze
from the remnants of life skinned away
I form


I have savoured it myself
with finger tips and nails filthy with passion,
with my fears,
no one
spoke to me
about the flavour of desperate need


copper wires
my blood
has turned
by their generous servings of electric shocks
and yet despite that
I see you


You do not know that I am remembering you now
with these words
I roll you around
in your bed


I will never kill myself
even if they gave me a razor blade
I will pluck out the pupil of my eye
to reclaim what I have seen
I will pull out my frail heart
to see frail hope
I will draw blood
from this corpse
to doodle with


and despite my view blocked by them with rocks
and curses
and walls cemented with piss
and blood
and ghosts
and fragments of bone
despite all of that
I can still see you from here
I even used to see
it was you
they were talking about
just as it used to happen years ago
when it was all


I form these words
I pass them on
like a piece of life dirty
between toes and tits
I place them on my head
which is on the earth
and between nightmares
though not in my mouth
but with every other limb
these words

Read by

After the third day in solitary confinement, the natural sense of being aware of time was no longer possible. With the floor’s area not being more than four metre square and surrounded by walls smeared with blood, there wasn’t much to do except wait for who knows how long or observe my neighbours/ partners living with me.

Rats were the first partners who offered their welcomes to me: a new lodger in the space it appeared they had set up for their future family. With time their presence became comforting until I used to miss them when they went to visit their relatives in the neighbouring cells.

Sometimes I would sit squatting in one of the corners of our shared house – “our cell” – whilst they would languish on the rusty pipes sticking out all over the place from the ceiling. We would spend hours keeping up. Sometimes they appeared bothered by something and they would cut short our company and hide behind the pipes and I would start following the sounds of their footsteps around the roof. Then they would leave the cell across the hole in the top of the cell only for them to return after a short while bearing booty. It seemed that their food was plentiful most of the times as they took the largest share of the food intended for prisoners.

The torture room was literally behind the door to my cell. The smell of blood would reach me all the time. During the rounds of torture which occurred three times daily I stayed in my cell counting the blows of the whip upon the bodies of those screaming in pain outside. At a certain stage of the torture to stop myself screaming like them I closed my eyes and pressed my hands to my ears and I began to sing with a trembling voice.

During the rounds of torture the rats usually hid. While I would sing, a thought occurred to me, and so with one eye open I used to look for them above the pipes but they were never there. I thought they must be hanging about somewhere closing their eyes and ears and singing. This is more merciful than witnessing the death of one or more persons under torture.

Once I woke up feeling something strange in my hand. When I opened my eyes, one of the rats was standing right in front of my face and another was standing on my hand licking it.

I threw the rat from my hand and jumped straight up screaming. The rats fled and climbed to their throne above the door which the prison guard opened shouting at me, “What’s there? Haven’t I told you I do not want to hear your voice.”

I pointed to above the door. When he saw the rats, he looked at me with disgust and muttered, “You’re frightened of rats!” I remained silent then he added, “Whoever fears rats doesn’t deserve to ask for freedom!” He turned his back to me and slammed the door behind him.

That last sentence of his was really funny. I looked at the rats who in turn looked at me asking, “What’s freedom got to do with rats?”

That family of rats was my friends during my imprisonment then I was released. I knew the rats were the reason for my freedom, as I caught influenza from them and was on the verge of death. So the officer responsible decided to release me so I wouldn’t die with them.

Read by

I dreamt with my eyes in the room of death
Oh they were like two pearls
Illuminating the darkness of the time
Enmeshing with delusion
The half-truth is that I saw them glowing
and the other half…I cried
Whenever a song rung inside me
– despite every traveller being afflicted with songs –
I would wipe them away like two seagulls
flying between the stars upon a green shore
the wave runs towards them behind my heart
and flow out with sweet froth
I babble a little
I call them
They look at me
I know I have began a lot
That I am as is customary for me
That if I had not started
I would have finished

I learnt to hate death in the room of death
until I dared to frown in its face
he was a strong bastard
revelling above me and under me
stomping in every direction
and twisting around me
I used to consider the reasons for my weakness
and your eyes did what angels did
in comfort
looking after me like a mother looks after her children
and concerned about the absence of consciousness
and dreams in limbo
not distinguishing between sacrifices and human forms
I fall…I fall in a difficult language
when my soul touches death my soul…
hard to understand, the place was taken
so the room of death no longer is supreme
nor is my body in a dream sleeping
and if you are in a moment from my unbridling
I’m thrilled

I’ve dreamt with my eyes in the room of death
A massive storm uproots me
an individual with beautiful memories
I carry my eyes on my back
I build them picture by picture
Just as a verse shook me in the details
and I formed my dreams
I said to all passion
O passion
I have conquered death in the room of death
when I dreamed with your two eyes
then I wrote them down
and dived in!


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