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More than fabric: Mansour Omari and Syria's secret prisons

More than fabric: Mansour Omari and Syria's secret prisons
From Al Jazeera - December 7, 2017

You hear the gallery before you see it - a mournful folk melody, then a man's voice reciting other men's names, hometowns, and mobile phone numbers.

Then you see the five display cases.

Each one contains a piece of a shirt, tilted so you can read the names, hometowns, and phone numbers still being recited over the loudspeaker.

Some of the ink is smudged, but most of the writing is legible, and that makes these squares of fabric valuable. They comprise a makeshift catalogue of the 82 men being held in a secret intelligence prison near the Mezzah military airport in Damascus during 2012.

They are also the heart of a new exhibition at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington: "Please Do not Forget Us", about the estimated 100,000 political activists who have disappeared during Syria's civil war.

Mansour Omari came up with the idea to memorialise his detention and that of his fellow political prisoners.

"It was in my mind all the time, 'It's my job, my task, to document the names,'" Omari told Al Jazeera at an event to mark the opening of the exhibition.

In 2011, Omari started keeping a list of missing political activists for the Violation Documentation Center, a local human rights organisation. The government had been denying reports it had anything to do with the activists' disappearances. The centre was trying to get answers for many worried families.

"The norm in Syria, when somebody is arrested, the family gets scared to ask about their loved ones," Omari said. "It's an atmosphere of fear. If you want to look for your son or your loved one, it also brings a threat to you."

Eventually someone decided the list keeper needed to be stopped - soldiers raided Omari's office and arrested him in February 2012.

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