Mohamed Berro was arrested in 1980 because of a leaflet he was carrying that goes back to the “Fighting Vanguard” or the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although these leaflets were being distributed and secretly placed on doorsteps of houses in Aleppo city, Mohamed was accused of concealing information, which caused him to spend 13 years in prison until he was released in 1993.
Mohamed says, “We got out of the prison in Damascus city at 1 am. It was an unspeakable feeling. Although I was still in a country ruled by a repressive government, I was breathing freedom and walking with people down the street after 13 years of detention. I arrived in Aleppo at first light to find that everything had changed, from the city’s features to the faces of people I left as children and returned to find as men and women.”
Mohamed didn’t face any negative reactions or lack of acceptance because of his imprisonment. On the contrary, he says that society viewed the Islamic detainees with appreciation and reverence, considering them heroes who rightly stood against the regime. On the other hand, there was a great fear from the government that drove some friends or even relatives away from the former detainees, even though they loved and appreciated them.
“In 1993, most people viewed detainees as heroes, showing them deep respect and appreciation,” says Mohamed. “Many people even considered them as family guides, who were called upon to settle conflicts between relatives. That’s because they believed that a detainee was characterized by wisdom, experience and cultural knowledge.”
During his last 5 years in prison, Mohamed wasn’t completely isolated from the outside world. In Saidnaya prison, it was permitted to listen to the radio, read newspapers, and communicate with different Muslims, leftists and others. This openness and communication with others enhanced the prisoners’ ability to easily adjust to life after being released. This was in contrast to the first 8 years he spent in Tadmor prison, where the difference between prison life and normal life could be measured in light years, according to Mohamed.
The long prison years did not produce any extremism or desire for revenge in Mohamed. He believes that revenge distorts a person’s image and leaves him in a state of constant worry and torment, while forgiving is a noble virtue that elevates the man above the difficult events that happen in his life. However, this didn’t change his negative opinion of the authoritarian and oppressive regime. “In our experience, there was no place for sectarianism among us. There were hundreds of Alawites, Communists, Druze and Christians in Saidnaya but we didn’t allow sectarianism to affect us,” he says. “The government used to arrest Alawites just like it did other sects, but it tortured and treated each sect in a different way.”
Until 2000, Mohamed was banned from traveling abroad. He had to consult the security sections at least once a month until he was finally allowed to travel, subject to significant intermediation. There was a condition to this freedom: he had to request permission from the security authorities before traveling, and meet with them on departure and return to explain his reason for travels, what he would do, whom he would meet, and so forth.
“The security personnel used to visit the workplaces of former detainees to investigate them, which would lead to their dismissal due to employers’ fear of responsibility. The security personnel also used to call us at short notice to inform us that they were coming to visit at home. They would ask about everything, even about a man’s relationship with his wife,” says Mohamed. “In fact, none of this happened by coincidence or through the visiting personnel. Rather, it was a message that we were their slaves, under their surveillance, and they could interfere in every detail of our lives so that we did not dare to think of opposing the regime.”
After leaving prison, Mohamed attended many training sessions in the field of information technology and accounting. He worked as an accountant in commercial companies for about 7 years then opened a center for the sale and maintenance of computers. He worked there until the year 2000 when he moved to Damascus and began working in marketing. He then left the country in 2012 after the situation worsened due to the Syrian revolution.