Death of a Child – Hamza al-Khateeb, age 13

Hamza al-Khateeb used to love it when the rains came to his small corner of southern Syria, filling up the farmers’ irrigation channels enough so that he and the other children could jump in and swim.

But the drought of the last few years had left the 13-year-old without the fun of his favourite pool.

Instead, he’d taken to raising homing pigeons, standing on the roof of his family’s simple breeze-block home, craning his neck back to see the birds circling above the wide horizon of fields, where wheat and tomatoes were grown from the tough, scrubby soils.

Though not from a wealthy family himself, Hamza was always aware of others less fortunate than himself, said a cousin.

“He would often ask his parents for money to give to the poor. I remember once he wanted to give  someone 100 Syrian Pounds ($2), and his family said it was too much. But Hamza said, ‘I have a bed and food while that guy has nothing.’ And so he persuaded his parents to give the poor man the 100.”

In the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces, however, Hamza found no such compassion, his humanity degraded to nothing more than a lump of flesh to beat, burn, torture and defile, until the screaming stopped at last.

Arrested during a protest in Saida, 10km east of Daraa, on April 29, Hamza’s body was returned to his family on Tuesday 24th May, horribly mutilated.

The child had spent nearly a month in the custody of Syrian security, and when they finally returned his corpse it bore the scars of brutal torture: Lacerations, bruises and burns to his feet, elbows, face and knees, consistent with the use of electric shock devices and of being whipped with cable, both techniques of torture documented by Human Rights Watch as being used in Syrian prisons during the bloody three-month crackdown on protestors.

Hamza’s eyes were swollen and black and there were identical bullet wounds where he had apparently been shot through both arms, the bullets tearing a hole in his sides and lodging in his belly.

On Hamza’s chest was a deep, dark burn mark. His neck was broken and his penis cut off.

“When Hamza’s mother came to see the body she was only shown his face,” said the cousin, who was present at the time.

“We tried to tell the father not to look, but he pulled the blanket back. When he saw Hamza’s body he fainted. People ran to help him and some started filming – it was chaos.”

“How would any family feel if they saw that video of their own child?” asked Hamza’s cousin. “I have never seen Hamza’s father cry in his entire life. Now we see only tears in his eyes.”

Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand

Al Jazeera

31 May 2011

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