PHOTO: Families and friends of detainees surround officials outside Homs Central Prison, December 2014

Syria Direct highlights one of the paradoxes of Syria’s 47-month conflict: in regime-controlled Homs, detainees in the main prison run the facility — even as they remain captives.

Homs Central Prison is the largest in the region, with more than 2,000 prisoners. Most of the detainees were arrested for participation in anti-reigme regime protests and charged with “terrorism”. Many have yet to be tried, and some have not been charged.

It has been run by detainees since July 2012, when they staged a revolt that removed the prison administration and security. However, Syrian forces surround the prison, controlling supplies.

Some detainees began a hunger strike in late December, demanding freedom, but relented when a Syrian prison commander, Colonel Abdu Karam, said the regime would negotiate. However, a detainee said security forces still have not responded to the prisoners’ calls for accountability,

“Jouri” told Syria Direct that he was first arrested in January 2013, along with his father and brother. He was tortured with electricity and the “Magic Carpet” — a piece of wood bent in the middle, on which the detainee is laid — and hung by his wrist for extended periods of time. His father is still missing.

He said the uprising began in December over the handling of the detainees, guaranteeing extended periods behind bars, and poor conditions:

The regime authorities mixed the criminal cases with the revolution-related cases. Many detainees were moved to the anti-terrorism court, which means that the detainee must wait for a long time before the court processes his case. There are also inhuman living standards here, and many diseases spread easily.

Moreover, the regime charged a number of prisoners with unfair sentences. One prisoner received 18 years of jail time because he participated in a protest. Another man was charged with 31 years for the same accusation. I am in prison under a terrorism claim for two years, and I haven’t been to court for my case yet.

The only prospect for his release is bribery:

The juridical system is corrupt and it is impossible to get out without paying money. My relatives now are negotiating with someone with authority among regime ranks. They reached an agreement that they would pay money in order to free me. Now I am waiting to buy my freedom.

Meanwhile, the prison is in a stalemate after detainees took charge of the facility:

The Syrian army tried to break in and failed.

I was there when the regime forces tried to break in to take back the prison. At the same time, the regime cut off access to electricity and water in the prison. I fought with the other prisoners confronting the regime forces with light weapons [knives and stones] that we took from them earlier. I threw stones at them.

After the raid, we managed to confiscate even more armor, helmets and batons. We also injured their commander and some other soldiers.

The regime forces couldn’t use live bullets in the break-in because there are 300 Alawite and Shiite hostages, who were also prisoners at the time of the prison’s liberation.

Some of those prisoners are relatives of some regime commanders, and the regime is negotiating with us in order to keep the hostages safe….

The Syrian regime is extremely corrupt, and is a system based on personal benefits. Although regime forces are blockading the prison, the same officers who are blockading us also bring us food, cigarettes and drinking water. Even the commander of the prison deals with some prisoners, and sells us food and cigarettes.

With regard to cell phones, there are some officers who secretly sell us cell phones and charging cards without their commander’s knowledge. They sell it to the prisoners at very high prices. That’s how I am able to talk to you now.