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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Caesar Photos Victim Profile: Nabil Sharbaji

Caesar Photos Victim Profile:
Nabil Sharbaji: Back To Life, Just to Die Again
Aug. 14, 2018
(rough, incomplete)
updates 2018-12-23

<< Fail Caesar {Masterlist}

The Smithsonian museum a while back put on display scraps of cloth with the names and details of some 82 people alleged to be detainees in Syria's Mezzeh prison back in 2012, some of who were killed. As the story goes, these were scrawled secretly under penalty of death, using blood and rust for ink and a chicken bone for a quill, on pieces of someone's shirts. An article in Smithsonian magazine (online) explained, they chose to display the scraps, and the allegations that came sewn up with them, "in part, to combat the denialism of atrocities occuring in Syria, which comes from places like Russia," citing Cameron Hudson, who runs the Smithsonian's Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, "but also, as Hudson points out, western outlets that refute or underplay the significance of what’s going on."

Here's one of these to show what they look like. These scraps were first publicized in the March, 2017 documentary "Syria's Disappeared: The Case Against Assad" (Channel 4). They were supposedly smuggled out in late 2012, but they've never been mentioned in over four years? What a story to sit on for so long. The named smuggler, and the primary storyteller behind the list, is activist Mansour Al-Omari. He's writing (or wrote?) a book about his hell in prison. There's a film version of his dramatic story: 82 Names. He reads some harrowing passages, explains the 82 names list, ties in Holocaust stuff - all quite moving.


Here's Omari humbly serving his duty to history. From Syria's Disappeared: The Case Against Assad

This post is about the guy who wrote this list, allegedly. Nabil Walid Al-Shurbaji (Arabic: نبيل وليد شربجي ), an anti-corruption, anti-smoking, etc. activist and journalist, from Daraya. (see VDC Arabic detainee entry - to see the English, replace /ar in the url with /en and reload.) The photo is from there, but not app. of him in jail, just behind some bars. Right?

For what it's worth, Mansour Al-Omari worked in the detainees department of the VDC, and would manage entries like his, besides being an alleged cellmate for some time. According to Mr. Omari, and it's not clear who else, Nabil held on for over three years behind bars before he was finally martyred in May, 2015.

In Syria's Disappeared, Mansour al-Omari mentions others helping write these notes, but it sounds like his idea, here and elsewhere. He says the list-maker in him just urged it. Sharbaji is not mentioned there. But in his NYT op-ed and elsewhere, Omari gives full credit. He's the main source for all stories, this gist of which are Nabil had the best handwriting, so he took responsibility for using the chicken bones and blood/rust "ink" to document everyone present. Also it was his shirt the list was sewn into by the tailor, who also offered the first blood for their ink, from his scurvied gums.

Shortly before the 2017 airing of Omari's story, in December 2016, an Arabic-language website was running reports about Nabil Shurbaji's numerous blood dispatches.  Who Killed Nabil Sharbaji? - english.enabbaladi.net, December 2016
From his cell, Nabil wrote down in blood from a bleeding cellmate’s gums mixed with rust, the names, telephone numbers and place of residence of all his cellmates, on pieces of cloth, for it to be smuggled out of prison. The cloth, which was part of a shirt belonging to another inmate, was smuggled out by the journalist Mansour al-Omari when he transferred to Adra Central prison.

There were 57 prisoners to document this way when they started. The number of prisoners changed over the long span required, so 82 names were included in the end. That's a lot of blood, rust, surely several chicken-bone quills, and a long time to wonder things like "do we really need to put all their addresses and phone numbers?"

This detainee is now a matter of history, worthy of a little more detailed examination. His detention(s) and death(s) under them have spurred protests, rumors, some unknown confusion. 


"Nabil had hopes of surviving more than once and we let him down each time."
By reports, he died, survived, and died again a few times. Now for the first time, the full stories told together. It works best as a bullet-list chronology. 

* March 16, 2011: First arrest: day 2 of the uprising
** "first detained by security forces on 16 March 2011. He was released after 17 days..."
http://fawzyelshorbagy.blogspot.com/2016/09/blog-post_96.html September, 2016which reflects a HRW Arabic list from 2013: https://www.hrw.org/ar/news/2013/10/01/251312

* Early April, 2011: released

* Probably sometime that winter 2011/2012: Nabil at liberty, seeming to enjoy life and the snow

* Jan. 29, helps launch Enabbaladi news paper: "Sharbaji is one of the most prominent founders of Enab Baladi and the only academic journalist among the team at that time. Nabil edited the news in the first issues of Enab Baladi and he also filmed, with his own camera and voice, the announcement of the launch of “issue-zero” on 29 January 2012."
Nabil Sharbaji, the seed of al-Arishah

* Feb 26, 2012: Second arrest:
** "The Syrian regime arrested Nabil on February 26th, 2012 in Daraya. prison." https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2016/12/killed-nabil-shurbaji/
** VDC detainee entry: Nabeel Waleed Shurbaji 30 Daraya, Journalist and Activist, detained 2-26-2012,  It is the Second detention for him.
** HRW: "arrested on 26 February 2012 From an Air Force checkpoint in the Thawra district of Badariya, while driving to a friend's house. Two of Nabil's friends who were with him that day informed his family of his arrest." https://www.hrw.org/ar/news/2013/10/01/251312
** video Feb. 26 2012 "Darya chants chanting for peaceful activist Nabil al-Sharbaji in Kafarsousa"

* Late Feb., 2012 to ??: Detention was initially at: "At air force intelligence center near the Mezzah military airport in Damascus. The center was under the supervision of Maher al-Assad, the brother of President Bashar al-Assad and one of the most feared men in Syria’s security services." NYT https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/opinion/what-i-smuggled-from-a-syrian-prison.html
** "Nabil spent the first period of his detention in the Air Force’s investigation department in Mezzah airport in Damascus. Later he was transferred several times, including to Adra central prison and then to Saydnaya prison."" https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2016/12/killed-nabil-shurbaji/
** "Former detainees told Nabil's family said that they had seen him at the detention center of the air force in Mazzeh…" HRW

* Before February was out: "Former detainees of Nabil's family said that they had seen him at the detention center of the air force in Mazzeh and that in February 2012 the officials had transferred him to Adra (central prison)." HRW 

* June, 2012: held with Mansour Al-Omari of the VDC, and 55 other men in a cell Mezzah (initial locale, before immediate transfer to Adra reported above).  Omari: “"The colonel told me he wouldn’t accuse me of gun possession,” my cellmate Nabil Shurbaji told me happily one evening in June 2012." NYT https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/opinion/what-i-smuggled-from-a-syrian-prison.html

* Up to November: making the list at Mezzah: his first and so far only "message"
** "The first of Nabil’s messages was on another detainee’s shirt on which Nabil wrote the names of his cellmates with blood and rust. The journalist Mansour al-Omari smuggled it out when he was released. https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2017/01/nabil-sharbaji-syria-not-mark-absent/#ixzz5O3EAH3Lh
** "Shurbaji, Omari, and the others agreed: Whoever was released first would wear Shurbaji's shirt. The scraps would be hidden inside the collar and cuffs." https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/middleeast/2017/12/fabric-mansour-omari-syria-secret-prisons-171207173316895.html

* Nov. 14, 2012, Mansour al-Omari released: "the jailer called my name, and shouted through the hole in the steel door: “Get your stuff ready, and wait by the door, bastard!” I knew that meant I would be released for good. I put on Nabil’s shirt." He was transferred to Adra, then released  on Feb. 5, 2013. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/opinion/what-i-smuggled-from-a-syrian-prison.html

* Late 2012 - May, 2015: Nabil continues 3-year imprisonment: 

** "Nabil struggled against his fate for three years. He did not want to die. He used to sing “Raj’een ya Hawa” (Oh love, we will return) silently, so the jailers would not hear him. He wanted to go back to life." https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2016/12/killed-nabil-shurbaji/

** "Nabil was later transferred to the Fourth Division in al-Saboura mountain before being transferred to Adra Central Prison and finally to Saydnaya Prison. Inmates in Saydnaya said that he died of illness in May 2015." (sounds like an uninterrupted span there) https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2017/01/nabil-sharbaji-syria-not-mark-absent/#ixzz5O3EAH3Lh

* December, 2012: Nabil is "brought before a judge at the military court in Qabun in December." HRW 

* unknown: Nabil released?

* Jan. 30/31 2013: third arrest?

** VDC killed entry 1: "arrested 63 days ago" to death date April 3, 2013 = Jan 30 http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/details/martyrs/72905#.W3FSo_ZFzug

** Facebook tribute page: "... the last appearance of Martyr Nabil in 2013/1/31" Coincidence? 


* Feb 8, 2013: newly jailed 

** "confirmed in the darkness of detention on Friday, 8 February..." https://www.facebook.com/475876922480181/photos/a.475945665806640.1073741826.475876922480181/478944052173468/?type=3

* Feb. 11, 2013: seen in Adra central prison www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/details/detainees/38473#.W3GCr_ZFzug

* Feb. 17, 2013: "Update: A relative told Human Rights Watch that he was transferred on 17 February to Sednaya prison after being brought before a judge at the military court in Qabun in December. Security forces in Sednaya prison in December refused to ask his family to visit Nabil Sharbaji there." (?translation issue perhaps?) https://www.hrw.org/ar/news/2013/10/01/251312

* February, 2013: Nabil appears dead in the "Caesar photos."   
The photo below shown with alive pictures as both showing Nabil by SHRC:

and by the VDC in a second entry upon this photo ID 

The Caesar photos were released, first to select channels for initial IDs in early March, 2015, then soon published online around March 15. Nabil was identified by someone as thus guy, on or before March 9. From my files, I found t
he photo is on the SAFMCD site as j-9092-2-2013 (2). http://safmcd.com/martyr/view.php?id=3581
or use the red number 435514 to search in the search box there.

The data claims he was held by AF Intel, branded the Arabic equivalent of J, as an abbreviation for that. J numbers are often non-sequential, but make sense in his stretch j-9090, 9091, 9094 all appear, and all dated 2-2013. That's the folder date for February, 2013. The given date seems to be the start of collection, but this has no day (the 1st?). There's also an odd 2-28 folder and then one for March, so it's before the 28th, barring a fluke misplacement. He doesn't look to have been held along, absorbed very much abuse, neglect, or starvation, compared to most. Was he one of those meant to stay recognizable?

Note: even if one doubts that February date, or the victim match, whoever that is must be dead by Aug. 20, 2013, when "Caesar" fled with the last of his collected photos. No one who died after this should be seen in the photos.

* April 3, 2013: Nabil has been tortured to death, buried in secret, just now

Did someone know he was dead, and decide to finally release the news, after a longer implied detention?
** VDC killed entry #1: Nabil al-Sharbaji, age 32, Occupation: French Teacher - Activist. Matching photo, from Daraya - same guy. Date of death: 2013-04-03"he was tortured to death after being arrested 63 days ago by air security forces" = Jan. 30, 2013 detention http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/details/martyrs/72905#.W3FSo_ZFzug
** The VDC cites Nabil tribute Facebook page: April 3: "After 63 days of detention... He was martyred under torture in occupation prisons since 8 February 2013" [sic - that doesn't add up right]

** April 4: not certain: "It is not possible to ensure that any detainee is killed under torture in the absence of handing over bodies to martyrs."

** message from his wife, perhaps named Safaa: "we don't have news until we see his body..."


** April 12: "confirmed … buried in an unknown place"

** https://twitter.com/SyrianMartyrs/status/319524098055229441

But no, that must have been some confusion. The rumors were unfounded. The man lives on! At least, according to the best-informed guy on all this:

* April 15, 2013: Nabil pens another blood letter to the same Mahmoud Omari, who later shared it with the media. It says:
** “Mansour, my friend, I was so sad when you left us. I tried to continue what you started, but I could not, because the conditions have changed a lot, and it has become too difficult… We are now 90 people in one room. I miss singing together and you telling us stories of films, and missed when you and ****** annoyed when I wanted to rest… Oh God, we came back to life, my friend, at the tune of the song: (we are coming back) Raj’een ya Hawa… Peace be upon you. Adra Central Prison. 15/04/2013.”
He tries to continue writing everyone's names in blood, but he couldn't... he explains, writing in blood? At great length? 

No, another article shows the letter, looking like he got hold of a pen and paper somehow. 


* July, 2013: a cited letter: "By: Nabil Walid Sharbaji… Adra Central Prison July 2013 hallucinations seem to me days with all its difficulties very fast, but when... " (citation ends, original link is dead) 


* August, 2013 or later: 

** "The last and most painful letter he wrote was a eulogy for his brother, Omar, who died defending Daraya in August 2013. Nabil wrote, “In all the twenty-nine years of my life, it never took me a long time to become convinced of something or believe in it or make peace with it, but this time it will take me all of eternity to believe that his sun has set and to realize that I have lost Omar forever.”

Painful indeed - that's a lot of blood.
** Note VDC has no entry for an Omar Sharbaji killed this month. But they list Omar Al-Shurbaji, 45, Daraya, as detained on August 31, but "Detention date is inaccurate. Known Abu Husain." 

* August 9, 2013: VDC detainees database, run by former cellmate Al-Omari; adds that Sharbaji was "seen in Adra central prison on 09-08-2013"

* Sept. 21, 25, 2013: same says he was seen in Mazzah Military Airport - Air Force Intelligence on 21-09-2013 … His case has been transferred to Court on 25/09/2013

* Oct. 1, 2013: is or recently was seen alive by family in Adra, per HRW: "Some members of Nabil's family, who have been able to visit him once in Adra, where he is still there, said that his legal status is unclear. Officials told Nabil that he would face trial before a military court in the field, but he did not meet a judge and was not informed of the charges against him." https://www.hrw.org/ar/news/2013/10/01/251312

* Oct. 2013-2014-early 2015: No sighting or letters mentioned. He must have been transferred somewhere secret, where you don't get news anymore.

* March 9, 2015: "Caesar photos" are released for review, Nabil is swiftly identified as the one shown in the 2-2013 photo. 
** listed again by VDC upon verification, March 9

Martyred under torture in the regime`s air forces directorate prisons after being detained on 24-2-2012, Date of death unknown accurately (previously given as April 3, 2013 - see above - and second detention date is a bit off)
** https://twitter.com/Daraya_Network/status/575081308159762432
** https://twitter.com/ghazi_73/status/575252623911088129
** This list assembled shortly thereafter includes the match  http://www.shrc.org/en/?p=24669 

* May 3, 2015: News from the secret place: he's dead again, just now.
** "Nabil Sharbaji, a Syrian journalist and peaceful activist, he was killed in detention in Saydnaya military prison on May 3rd ,2015." https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2017/01/nabil-sharbaji-syria-not-mark-absent/#ixzz5O3EAH3Lh
** Mansour Omari: "After two years [past his own Feb. 2013 release], Nabil died. He died in the Saydnaya military prison after a jailer kicked him in the chest, sending his soul to heaven and body to some mass grave or, perhaps, an incinerator." https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/opinion/what-i-smuggled-from-a-syrian-prison.html
First, his body  - as many say - passed under the lens of Caesar, sometime before Caesar fled in August, 2013. 
** "...he was killed in the Sednaya prison for political detainees on 3 May 2015, according to testimonies from detainees who were with him at that time."


Nabil Sharbaji, the seed of al-Arishah
** Kholoud Helmi, founder of Enab baladi newspaper: “The first one we lost was the CEO, Mohammad Quraitem. He took the decision to stay in my hometown after we left and he was killed by a missile that hit his home. Then we lost a reporter from Darayya one month later. Then within the period of two or three months we lost the managing editor, Ahmad Shihadeh. Then in 2015 one of our co-founders, Nabil Shurbaji, was killed under torture in prison after he was arrested in February 2012. He was the only journalist among us. The rest of us were amateurs.
“We only learned that he had been killed two years later. Other people are still in prison. We paid a very heavy price.” https://www.bigissuenorth.com/features/2018/05/womans-place-resistance/

** Did it take 2 years to learn in 2017, or did it take a bit longer to forget the prior ID as a guy who died in early 2013? They say the former, app. when this guy was released:

** "Omar al-Shaghiri, one of the people who witnessed Nabil’s death in detention, said, “The jailor used to come every morning and shout, “Bastards, who has someone who died?” That day, the cell officer in the cell next to mine said he had someone. The jailor asked him for the full name, mother’s name and date of birth. The officer responded, ‘Nabil Sharbaji’. Then he said his father’s name, mother’s name and his date of birth. I remember that day well. One of Nabil’s closest friends was in the same cell as me and he cried when he heard Nabil’s name. His mental state and health deteriorated after hearing of the death of one of his dearest friends.”

It's said he died from a kick to the chest. Looking at the photo above, Nabil could have died from ... breathing problems in the chest. That could cause your ears to turn purple, lips a bit (cyanosis - low oxygen, from many causes, not just chemicals). That could perhaps explain the blood from his nose. Not sure it would cause the very faint yellow staining on his lower face. And definitely, a kick in the chest in 2015 can't be hard enough to kill you 2 years back in time. 

Compare to another onetime cellmate of Omari, super-positive and totally peaceful activist Ayham Ghazoul, who allegedly died of internal injuries, no external wounds (someone else, not Mansour, claims to have seen that, after transfer to branch 227 - unless he's also "M", but the story he gives is different...). Irritated skin on neck, mild cyanosis, red, irritated eyes, yellow crust in eyes, yellow staining across lower face. 

Both suggest there had been more of this yellow fluid, plus blood, etc. leaking from their airways but it was washed off pretty well prior to these photos ...as actual opposition activists, where they were meant to be recognized? The majority are captured SAA soldiers and "Shabiha", I suspect, and are starved down, massively neglected, often left covered in blood and mucous across their faces, sometime deep purple all over, with eye irritation so bad their eyes are swollen and oozing bloody fluids like rotting peaches. These guys got it easy. But not nearly as easy as some...

More on Mansour Al-Omari

"He was working at the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression in Damascus when they came for him..."

"I had been the supervisor of the detainees section of the Violation Documentation Center, an independent organization that has monitored human rights violations in Syria since April 2011." 


That's who found out: Nabil "was seen in Mazzah Military Airport - Air Force Intelligence on 21-09-2013, Adra central prison on 11-02-2013, Adra central prison on 09-08-2013," months after the guy several people are sure is him was already seen dead.

Sources give Nabil's age on arrest as 30 or 32. Omari has the guy writing out in blood, a year later, about his 29 years of life so far.

After his release in early 2013, Omari says he told Nabil's fiancée that he was alive, and assured her he would be for a long time. 
"Among the people I contacted was Nabil’s fiancée. Nabil had talked to me about her almost every day while we were imprisoned together. “She was the only girl who understood me,” he used to say. He dreamed of her almost every day, and thought of the family they would build together when he was finally freed."

The Facebook tribute page set up around the time of his alleged death in April, 2013 says he was married with 3 children already (shown, all young) https://www.facebook.com/475876922480181/photos/a.475945665806640.1073741826.475876922480181/475945669139973/?type=3

and this includes a message from someone claiming to be his wife, perhaps named Safaa: 

Mansour Al-Omari: Does his face lend credibility? You decide.

Update 2018 12-23: I later revised my Caesar photos timeline in more detail. 

I didn't include Nabil in this, but just now on review I consider his j# is a likely "H# insertion." j-9092 could be unidentified body #9,092 or, as numbered here with the count re-setting at 5,000 to 1 with a b, he'd he 4092/b. That's roughly in the middle of the time span covered by the folder he's in (section below, adding this possibility in green)

4092/b would fall about 400 bodies after the Feb. folder starts, and well before its end around 4521 and 4571/b dated the 27th and 28th. Presuming steady flow, his death date should be around Feb. 10-13. That's about 2 weeks (not 63 days, not a couple years) after his murky 3rd arrest in late January, following his even murkier second release from real jail shortly before that.... hmmm.

update, an hour later: oops. This is before the /b switch, as the image shows, so just 4092, not 9092, would be in range. The above is likely a coincidence, unless they made up his prisoner number by adding 500 to his hospital  # anyway, and it was 4092. Possible but that's all.

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