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women assisting another woman

Image: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty

In the early days of the Syrian revolution—before the protest movement became an armed insurrection—government forces were often reluctant to shoot female protesters during crackdowns. So some women formed human shields during demonstrations, hoping to protect the men behind them, as one 25-year-old activist from the province of Daraa recounts in a Human Rights Watch report published this week.

As the revolution intensified, the crackdowns became more sweeping and more violent—and the authorities increasingly targeted women, too. The Daraa activist—whom the report’s authors call “Nisreen”—was arrested in February 2012 and reports being held in harrowing conditions for more than a year. Screams from tortured men echoed around her, and their blood seeped onto the floor outside her cell.

“There was a small space in our door, and we could see them cleaning the ground outside our room,” Nisreen says in the report. “They would torture them with electricity and throw water on them—we could hear it all” . . .

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