In Damascus, war amputees walk again on Syrian-made prosthetics

At the Syrian Arab Red Crescent facility, patients of all ages try on their new prosthetic for size, as staff members carry in brand new artificial legs or arms from an nearby room. (AFP/Louai Beshara)
Updated 23 July 2018
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In Damascus, war amputees walk again on Syrian-made prosthetics

  • Tens of thousands of people have lost limbs in Syria’s seven-year conflict
  • Every day, dozens of patients arrive from across Syria, whether they have lost limbs in the war or as a result of illness

DAMASCUS: Propped up by a mobility frame in a rehabilitation center in Syria’s capital, Abdulghani carefully inches forward on two artificial legs, as he walks for the first time in over a year.
“I want to be able to stand on my own two feet again,” says the 48-year-old veterinarian, his anxious son trailing him across the busy ward.
A specialist also carefully monitors double amputee Abdulghani’s progress, as he gets a feel for the locally made prosthetic limbs.
“I’m doing my best so that I can help myself and do the job I love,” says the father-of-seven from the central city of Hama, around 190 kilometers (120 miles) from Damascus, preferring not to give his second name.
Tens of thousands of people have lost limbs in Syria’s seven-year conflict.
And Abdulghani is one of hundreds helped back on his feet by the Damascus physical rehabilitation center — for free.
Patients of all ages try on artificial limbs for size, as staff bring brand new prosthetics from a nearby room.
Abdulghani lost both his legs in March last year, after being hit during shelling as he rode home on his motorbike from a job vaccinating livestock.
“After I was injured, I felt really desperate. I couldn’t move and I constantly needed help... It was a lot to bear,” he says.
“I was deeply embarrassed for my son whenever I had to go anywhere,” adds Abdulghani.
A doctor in Hama referred Abdulghani to the Damascus center, which is run by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent with support from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Every day, dozens of patients arrive from across Syria, whether they have lost limbs in the war or as a result of illness.
“Right now I’m in the final phase — being fitted with artificial limbs and practicing” walking, Abdulghani says.
“In a week, I should be back on my legs again.”
Across the ward, a younger man tries to walk with a new artificial leg, his hands gripping rails running along a ramp for support.
A boy lies nearby on a bed, as a medic fits a prosthetic sock over his partially amputated leg, before fitting a replacement limb below the knee.
A World Health Organization report said last year that 86,000 Syrians had suffered wounds that led to amputation.
In an adjacent room, a Syrian prosthetist and his assistant put the final touches to plastic and metal limbs, supervised by an ICRC expert.
A newly finished artificial leg sits on an immaculately tidy work bench, under a board of neatly aligned screwdrivers and other tools.
Legs and arms of various sizes await the outside world, labelled with the names of their new owners.
The center started making its own prosthetic limbs in 2010, director Nadeer Kanaan says, but became more active after the civil war began the following year.
The number of amputees “increased due to the crisis, accidents, gunshots, (shell and rocket) fragments and land mines,” Kanaan says.
Production jumped from 250 artificial limbs in 2014 to double that last year — and since May, the center’s workers have been churning out 50 a month.
The facility mainly specializes in making prosthetics for people whose legs have been amputated above and below the knee, says 28 year-old supervisor Ayat Ezzadeen.
“Sometimes a patient turns up who’s really down, but we give them an artificial limb and they perk up,” she says.
Amani, 10, is wearing new brand-new pink-laced trainers for a second practice session with her new leg.
She comes from the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, where the Daesh group has lost significant ground in recent years.
The jihadists planted land mines as they retreated under pressure from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on one front and Russia-backed Syrian regime troops on another.
Amani “went out of the house to play in our village and a mine exploded, causing her leg to be amputated below the knee,” the girl’s 28-year-old aunt says.
“Thank God, she will now walk again.”


Iran faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

Since protests began in December, Iranians have had their internet access disrupted and have lost access to the messaging app Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Iran faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

  • The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government

GENEVA, LONDON: In early January, labor activist Esmail Bakhshi posted a letter on Instagram saying he had been tortured in jail, attracting support from tens of thousands of Iranians online.
Bakhshi, who said he was still in pain, also challenged the intelligence minister to a public debate about the religious justification for torture. Late last month, Bakhshi was rearrested.
Sepideh Qoliyan, a journalist covering labor issues in the Ahvaz region, was also rearrested on the same day after saying on social media that she had been abused in jail.
Bakhshi’s allegations of torture and the social media furor that followed led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call for an investigation, and the intelligence minister subsequently met with a parliamentary committee to discuss the case, a rare example of top officials being prompted to act by a public backlash online.
“Each sentence and description of torture from the mouths of #Sepideh_Qoliyan and #Esmail_Bakhshi should be remembered and not forgotten because they are now alone with the torturers and under pressure and defenseless. Let us not forget,” a user named Atish posted on Twitter in Farsi on Feb. 11.
“When thousands of people share it on social media, the pressure for accountability goes up,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Sham investigations won’t put it to rest. Social media is definitely becoming a major, major public square in Iran.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said last month, without naming Bakhshi, that allegations of torture online constitute a crime.
His comments follow growing pressure from officials to close Instagram, which has about 24 million users in Iran. Iran last year shut down the Telegram messaging app, which had about 40 million users in the country, citing security concerns.
“Today you see in cyberspace that with the posting of a film or lie or rumor the situation in the country can fall apart,” Dolatabadi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “You saw in recent days that they spread a rumor and announced the rape of an individual or claimed suicide and recently you even saw claims of torture and all the powers in the country get drawn in. Today cyberspace has been transformed into a very broad platform for committing crimes.”
The arrests of Bakhshi and Qoliyan are part of a crackdown in Ahvaz, center of Iran’s Arab population. Hundreds of activists there pushing for workers’ and minority rights, two of the most contentious issues in Iran, have been detained in recent weeks.
The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government.