MONTREAL — Yaman Alqadri still remembers the emotionally draining and painful moments she suffered in the months before her arrival in Canada from Syria in April 2012.
The pain was from the beatings and electric shocks she endured in November 2011 after she and some friends distributed flyers against the Assad regime while she was attending medical school in Damascus.
Alqadri and her younger brother were born in a Damascus suburb, but the family moved to Saudi Arabia in 1996 where she completed high school before deciding to return to the Syrian capital at the age of 18.
“We knew the government, we knew about the corruption, but there was no will to change anything,” Alqadri, now 22, said in an interview at her Montreal apartment.
Then, in early 2011, the “Arab Spring” erupted as anti-government protests and uprisings spread across the Middle East.
“I got introduced to people who shared the same political view on my campus and we started going to protests in Damascus,” she recalled.
“I was in those demonstrations and I heard the bullets and I ran and I could have been shot.”
Alqadri said someone suggested they hand out flyers with slogans that read: Syrian People Deserve Change as well as The Army is to Protect the People, Not Shoot Them.”
They couldn’t distribute the leaflets on campus because of surveillance cameras, so they found a construction site that didn’t have any cameras and tossed the flyers out of the windows.
Alqadri says she hid out for a week after learning authorities were looking for her, but she decided to return to campus.
Then, after two weeks, members of the student union, “the Assad regime’s arm on campus,” came after her.
They took her, she says, to a guard’s office where she was beaten and kicked and ended up with a bloody nose.
Afterwards, she was handcuffed, blindfolded and driven in an unmarked car to a branch of the security service.
She was taken to a man she described as “the boss,” who wanted to know why she distributed the flyers.
“He then told his assistant: ‘OK, bring me the electric stick’ and he started to put the stick to my body and I received electrical shocks,” Alqadri said.
“It’s not about giving them the right answer, it’s about teaching me a lesson.”
Later, around midnight she was again handcuffed and blindfolded and driven to another branch of the security service for more intense questioning.
“They saw videos on my phone of demonstrations and they wanted to know if I had connections, if someone was financing me,” Alqadri said.
While she was being detained, her friends started a Facebook page.
There was also extensive media coverage and that’s when her parents in Riyadh first found out about her detention.
Alqadri said her mother even went to Syria to beg to get her freed.
On the 24th day of her detention, Alqadri was finally released.
She credits media coverage, public pressure and probably the fact authorities realized she was not an influential person.
She and her mother returned to Saudi Arabia where she was reunited with her brother and father.
During a visit, one of her cousins who was living in Canada, suggested Alqadri join her.
She arrived in April 2012 and has since received her permanent resident status.
Alqadri hopes to become a Canadian citizen one day and fulfil her lifelong dream of becoming a psychiatrist.
Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press