Channel 4 commissions ITN Productions to make Syria documentary

Channel 4 is to screen an investigation into the detention and torture of Syrian civilians featuring shocking video evidence of men, women and children being subjected to beatings, whippings and more elaborate torture.

Current Affairs Commissioning Editor Siobhan Sinnerton has commissioned ITN Productions to make the 1 x 45 film, presented by Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller. Sinnerton says: “This important and necessary film will provide viewers the opportunity to witness, via these video recordings, the brutality of the Syrian regime in action. The investigation pieces together evidence to reveal the widespread torture being committed by security forces throughout the country.”

In this film, Miller travels to Syria and the Lebanon to hear the testimonies of victims, refugees and activists who have experienced or witnessed such brutality at the hands of al-Assad’s forces. Their stories, combined with an analysis of torture footage, refute President Assad’s claims that his forces are simply quelling an armed insurgency. Miller says: “What I’ve heard is testimony from people who tell of systematic abuse and torture so appalling and prevalent it is no surprise that the revolt in Syria is growing day by day. The scale and barbarity of it is overwhelming.”

The United Nations says over 4,000 people have been killed in Syria since the popular protests began to emerge in February, and that the regime’s security forces have committed ‘crimes against humanity’ in their crackdown on protesters. Tens of thousands of people – mainly young men – have been detained. Many have been brutally abused – the most recent UN report contains allegations of torture, sexual assaults and murder and details cases involving children – including a two-year-old girl reportedly shot to death so she would not grow up to be a demonstrator. Miller puts these allegations of torture and murder directly to the Syrian government.

A number of victims of such abuse chillingly recount torture techniques – their descriptions are consistent in depicting a well-used and systematic method of instilling terror. Common procedures include interrogations with beatings, lashings, immersion of cuts in salt, electrocution, confinement in a tyre, water boarding and being held – sometimes naked – in small cramped cells.

As journalists and international organisations are prevented from carrying out free and independent observation, protestors are uploading hundreds of videos every week to the internet, desperate to show the world what’s happening. In this programme, such mobile phone video footage taken by Syrian civilians, activists and, in some cases the torturers themselves, is subjected to journalistic verification processes.

The footage clearly shows bound victims being subjected to thrashings, tramplings, whippings and verbal abuse. The fear on the victims’ faces is all too evident as are the injuries. The videos demonstrate the dreadful range of torture techniques employed. The film also examines evidence obtained by families even as they mourn their loved ones including photographic evidence showing the horrific scars and bruising that led to painful deaths.

Executive Producer Chris Shaw says: “The mobile phone versus the gun may seem an unequal contest but in Libya, Egypt and now Syria people are fighting powerful regimes by documenting torture and detention for a global audience- and our film examines this phenomenon.”

The film features interviews with internationally renowned experts commenting on Syria’s notorious use of torture in the past and during the present upheaval. Amnesty International has written numerous reports documenting the prevalence of torture in Syria. They have documented information on over fifty cases where there is evidence of torture or other ill-treatment that caused or contributed to the deaths.

The film is being made by ITN Productions, the company behind the critically-acclaimed film Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields broadcast earlier this year. It will air on Monday 19 December at 11.10pm on Channel 4.

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