One of the hardest things we go through as families of the disappeared is the waiting. For many years we have waited for answers, for some idea of the fate of our loved ones, and for justice and accountability.
Over the weekend, I joined fellow activists and Syrian families whose loved ones are still missing after being detained or disappeared by the Syrian regime and armed groups. We have placed hundreds of landlines on the cobblestones of Bebelplatz in central Berlin as a call to governments to do more to seek information about our loved ones.
My son Ayham Ghazoul was one of tens of thousands of Syrians detained and tortured for daring to peacefully resist the regime of Bashar al-Assad. He was my youngest son, and the closest to me. His older brothers got married and moved and my husband died in late 2011, so he and I were home alone.
During his teenage years before the revolution, he always brought me stories written on computer disks by former prisoners. Those stories were banned in Syria, but Ayham wanted me to know what it was like to be a political prisoner in al-Assad’s prisons.
At the beginning of the revolution, he studied for his master’s degree in dentistry and took part in the uprising in Damascus. He joined the movement to defend freedom of speech and was so proud to participate in the demonstrations, singing and calling for freedom.
He and some of his colleagues were arrested by Air Force intelligence and later taken to the infamous Fourth Division branch, where he was often tortured. His friends inside were amazed that he was still alive after the torture sessions, his wounds were very serious, but he always tried to smile until he was too tired to do so. They released him after three months with severe bleeding in his kidneys.
Once he recovered, he returned to his studies and began attending activism workshops in Beirut. The night before he was due to travel home, he called me to tell me about the best night of his life on the beach in Beirut. “I’ll tell you when I get back, Mama,” he said. I waited to hear about that night.
The day after he returned from Beirut on November 5, 2012, he went to work at the university and was arrested. They took him to a room in the university, filled with torture devices.
A fellow inmate told me they beat him hard all over his body. When they hit him on the head, Ayham lost consciousness and died a few days later. He told me they had put a white piece of paper on Ayham’s forehead with a number on it.
Three months after he was murdered, I learned of my son’s death. We began to grieve and accept condolences from friends. At his memorial, a government official arrived and told me that Ayham was really alive. He gave us details and it was enough for me to make myself believe and have hope.
My search for answers about his whereabouts lasted 17 months, going everywhere and asking everyone I could. I would go to the intelligence community with other mothers and we would ask them to tell us about our children. They all denied having any information until one day an officer finally nodded his head at me. My son had died, he confirmed.
When the Caesar photos were first released, they revealed the horrific atrocities committed by the Syrian regime against political prisoners. It left the world in total shock. I tried to look for Ayham in the photos, but it was hard to look through such horrific photos. A family friend identified him.
Since then I have not stopped campaigning. We families have spoken out at every opportunity against state-sponsored torture and detention. We went to the German city of Koblenz to start a lawsuit against two Syrian regime officials accused of torture prisoners. Families who recognized their loved ones in Caesar’s photos have gathered and are trying to find out where they are buried.
I need to know where my son is so I can bury him and sit next to his grave. That’s why I wait every day by the phone, hoping for information about where his body might be. Nothing can bring my son back, but burying him would ease my pain and give me a place to grieve and tell him what I’ve wanted to tell him for years.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.