My brother told me so…

My name is Ola Ghaffir, I am from Idlib but I have been living in Germany since 2016, where I turned to for protection. In Syria, I was a French literature student at the University of Idlib, but after 2011 when the regime escalated its attacks on Idlib and set up checkpoints everywhere, and arbitrary arrest campaigns began to affect university students, I had to give my dream up of graduating from University and pursuing further studies. I have a big family; four brothers and four sisters. We used to live together in Idlib but today we have scattered; each of us is in a different part of the world, far from each other.

When I think of Mohammed I always remember how gentle and caring he was. He was 12 years older than me, he was always nice to me. He loved the warmth of the family when we gathered together at the dining table or by the fireplace on winter nights. Everything has changed since the Syrian regime hid him in May 2012 and those memories became very painful that when I try to recall them. I feel breathless and almost faint. We look at the home which becomes an empty place where he once was, spoke in, lived in. Everything now is a painful memory. 

Perhaps it is the age difference between us which made Mohammad treat me the way he did. I always felt like a kid with him. He considered himself responsible for protecting me and providing for me. He tried to keep me away from anything that might harm me, which I was not so happy about back then. Now that I'm older, I realize that he was right about a lot of the things we disagreed about. I now say, “He was right. My brother told me so!”

Because he took a lot of responsibilities, he had to work very hard in two jobs, as a barber and as a taxi driver. He was a simple person who found happiness in the smallest things. He did not have to take training or education to learn how to refuse injustice and wrong. And he was rewarded with torture, exclusion from his family and society for years, and finally his death.

In May 2015 I learned of the devastating news of his death through the leaked Caesar photos. I saw the signs of torture and starvation on him, as well as the other victims. I believe that the whole world should have stood by those photos and the enormous amount of evidence they bring to the world; telling the story of the Syrian people with the Assad regime, how dangerous it is to keep it in power for even one more day. 

Mohammad Taha with his children

My heart aches every time the picture passes in my memory, and it hardly leaves it. I feel the agonizing pain of all the relatives, friends and lovers of the rest of the victims. 

Our demand today as a family is not only to bring justice and accountability to Mohammed Taha. We also want to save the rest, the hundreds of thousands of detainees and forcibly disappeared people in Syria who can still be saved. We don't want any other family to go through  what we had to go through. Today, more than ever, we must raise our voices loud and clear.  

We continue to echo the demands that my brother Mohammed Taha sought in 2011, along with millions of other Syrian men and women: for freedom, justice and accountability.