Before the current Syrian uprising, Hussein Essou, 65, worked to protect local farmers in the northeastern province of al-Hassaka from a sale of agricultural lands to the government. He had sought a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad to discuss the land sale. The president refused. A retired communications engineer and a Kurd, Hussein led a protest in late August 2011 in front of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in al-Hassaka, requesting the release of peaceful activists, Kurds and Arabs alike. Security agents arrested Hussein during the protest, but soon released him. On the evening of September 2, 2011, a person who said he was a member of Air Force Intelligence telephoned Hussein and told him he was waiting for Hussein at his home. Hussein delayed his return home to 2 a.m., but when he arrived security agents arrested him. He has been detained ever since.
A man who had been detained with Hussein and was released told the family that officials transferred Hussein to the Air Force Intelligence branch in the Mezze neighborhood of Damascus in December 2012. The man also said that when he saw Hussein, his lower body was paralyzed. The detainee told the family that a doctor who examined Hussein in detention diagnosed him with spinal neurological damage, which he did not previously have. The family is extremely worried about his health. He has had heart surgery, and before his detention suffered from a split disk in his back, his brother said. “We don’t know anything about him,” he said.
One of Hussein’s relatives has been shuttling among various authorities—the public prosecutor of al-Hassaka, the al-Hassaka governor, and Air Force Intelligence—requesting permission for visits, only to be repeatedly rebuffed.
Members of the security forces in Qamishli in eastern Syria told another of Hussein’s relatives that Hussein has not been released because he refused to sign a document expressing regret for his political activism. “Hussein is a free thinker,” said his brother Bashar. “He’s an advocate for equality among Syrians. He doesn’t differentiate between Kurds and Arabs, he only opposes religious extremism.”
In January 2013, Hussein’s family organized a protest in front of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in al-Hassaka to seek Hussein’s release. It was the very place where agents first arrested Hussein while he bravely demonstrated for the release of other peaceful activists.
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