I was seven months pregnant when my husband Mohammed Al-Khani was arrested in February 2012. He used to work as a salesman, selling and distributing detergents and household materials to the street markets. It was a Saturday, a special day for the street market in our town, Maarat al-Numan. He started early in the morning as usual. I went out to help, I always did. He would not want me to, but I insisted! When we had delivered all of the goods, I was on my way back to the house when I heard his voice calling my name, “Ghazala.” I answered him as I was walking but he only replied by calling my name again. “Ghazala,” he said. I looked at him and asked if he wanted something? He asked me to cook him Majdara, a traditional Syrian dish made of lentils, bulgur and fried onion. I told him that of course I would and we started walking. For a third time he said, ”Ghazala”. I looked at him and he said straight away, “Nothing. Go to the boys, take care of them, take care of yourself.” I never heard his voice again.
I cooked him Mujadara that evening, and waited for him so that we could enjoy it together, except he never made it home. A group of sellers knocked on the door that night and they brought me his goods along with the worst news ever; Mohammad had been arrested by a military checkpoint between our town of Maarshuren and Maarat al-Numan, which is about a kilometer away from our town. The news was shocking and terrifying, and despite everyone's attempt to calm me down with words like “Mohammed will come. He does nothing, he will be okay,” but I knew it was not okay. I know of so many innocent people who were arrested and have never been released; people who never got back to their families. Our journey to search for Mohammad has started right then.
We were later informed, informally, that Mohammad was punished for his brother Musab’s engagement in the demonstrations against the Assad regime. A survivor and former detainee who was with my husband in the branch 215 detention center in Damascus approached us and brought me a message from Mohammad to name our, at the time, unborn baby girl ‘Batool’. Our daughter was born less than three months after her father's detention, and as he wished, she is the loveliest Batool. Batool is now eleven and each day of her life we wished for her father to come home, for her and her brothers to live as normal children with both their parents at home. When some photos of detainees in the regime detention centers were leaked through networking sites, I was able to recognise Mohammed with a large group of detainees in a very narrow place. They were very emaciated and naked. That photo was the nightmare that used to wake me up from sleep every night, until I saw something even crueler and more painful. I saw Muhammad among the photos of Caesar's victims. I, who worked hard to keep my childrens’ hope that their father will be back one day, was left with nothing but hopelessness and helplessness. Only to be stronger as I see my daughter, a strong young woman who speaks loudly and clearly about the rights of detainees and their families as she participates, sometimes against my will, in all Families for Freedom activities. She carries a photo of her father all the time and tells me one day she will be a lawyer. She says that together with her team of lawyers of detainees’ daughters, they will file lawsuits against Bashar al-Assad that takes him to prison.