41 years. That’s how long my father, Ragheed al-Tatari, has been held in detention by the Syrian regime without ever being granted a proper trial. For the entirety of my life I’ve been deprived of having a father and him of getting to know his only son.
A Syrian air force pilot, my father was first arrested in 1980 for refusing orders to bomb locations in Hama during the regime’s crackdown on the city. He was released only to be taken again the next year. For most of my childhood my family had no clue where my father was being held.
It took 14 years to find out where he was and secure a visit to see him. I was preparing myself mentally, as who knew what state my father would be in, but when I saw him, although he looked tired, his eyes were not those of a broken man and his voice was so clear and kind. Since then I was able to visit him just a few more times as he was moved between many locations in the regime’s vast detention apparatus over the years including the notorious Sednaya Prison. When the revolution started my wife and I were forced to flee Syria and we lost contact.
My father might be Syria’s longest held political prisoner, but his case is an example of the injustice that tens of thousands of detainees and forcibly disappeared people are suffering at the hands of a regime that uses detention as a weapon to crush dissent and oppress communities.
This week my father will complete 41 years in prison. It’s outrageous that anyone should be forced to spend a single minute behind bars for opposing the Syrian regime, let alone an entire lifetime. I want my father to spend what’s left of his life free. I want him to know that he is not forgotten, and that there are people around the world who demand freedom for him and all of Syria’s detainees. That’s why I am walking for his freedom - and I’m asking you to join me. Alongside some of my father’s friends from the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison who spent time in prison cells with him, we are asking you and people around the world to ‘Walk for Ragheed’ by pledging to walk a number of steps of your choosing to demand that my father walks free. That all of Syria’s detainees walk free. Will you join in?
It’s easy to take part: simply pledge to walk on the website, then get outside in your neighborhood or in nature over the next week. Together, we hope to reach 75 million steps pledged – a rough estimate of the steps my father has missed out on taking during 41 years in detention.
Make sure to share photos afterwards by replying to this email and posting on social media using the hashtag #WalkforRagheed. If you cannot walk for any reason, please reply with a message of support instead. If you are an artist and feel inspired to create work in solidarity please don’t hesitate sharing this with us in the same way – my father enjoys drawing and making sculptures from bread dough and any other materials he can get his hands on in prison.
Pledge to walk for freedom and share with your friends
I hope that by walking for my father we can spread awareness not just about him but all of Syria’s detainees, many of whom are held in horrific conditions and subjected to torture. And that we can push the international community to take serious steps to release them all.
Thank you for all you do,