Summary and Current Status
On November 15, 2011, Rafah Nashed, the first practicing female psychoanalyst in Syria, was reportedly released. Dr. Nashed was one of 1,180 people detained for their alleged involvement in anti-government activities who were released that day by Syrian authorities. She had been held without charge at the women’s prison in Douma since September 10, 2011, when she was detained at the airport in Damascus by agents of Syria’s Air Force Intelligence Service as she prepared to board a Paris-bound flight. Although never involved in political activities, Syrian authorities reportedly accused her of promoting upheaval and the overthrow of the government and being disrespectful of public order, but did not bring formal charges against her.
Dr. Nashed has worked as a psychoanalyst in Syria since 1984. She completed her degree in clinical psychology at the University of Paris-Diderot in France. In 2000, she founded the Damascus School of Psychoanalysis. She is married to Dr. Faisal Mohammed Abdullah, a professor of ancient history at Damascus University who is a specialist in Sumerian writing.
When peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations began in Syria in March 2011 and were met with repression by government security forces, Dr. Nashed and another psychoanalyst colleague, who is a Jesuit priest, organized group therapy sessions using psychodrama at which Syrian citizens could process the political violence around them and talk about their fears. These sessions were described in an article by Agence-France Presse (AFP) journalist Sammy Ketz that mentioned Dr. Nashed by name. The French newspaper L’Orient le Jour also cited her name in an article about the situation in Syria.
On September 10, 2011, Dr. Nashed went to Damascus airport to travel to France for medical appointments (see below) and to be present for the birth of her first grandchild. According to her husband, she managed to telephone him from the luggage scanning area and told him, “they are checking me hysterically and they have lists, the man took my passport and went away.” Dr. Abdullah later determined that his wife was detained by agents of Syria’s Air Force Intelligence Service. For the duration of her detention, Dr. Nashed was held at the women’s prison in Douma on the outskirts of Damascus. According to press accounts, prison officials permitted Dr. Nashed to have two 30-minute family visits per week.
In an open letter to five French newspapers, dated September 27, 2011, Dr. Abdullah wrote that his wife “has never exercised any political activities or any kind of activity other than the work of psychoanalysis.” He indicated that Syrian authorities nevertheless had accused Dr. Nashed of promoting upheaval and the overthrow of the government and being disrespectful of public order. Had she been formally charged, tried, and found guilty of these activities, she could have faced a seven-year prison term.
Dr. Nashed’s health was of particular concern. At the time of her detention, she was receiving medical treatment for cancer, a heart ailment, and high blood pressure. She also was taking two medications, for blood pressure and cholesterol, on a daily basis. On September 27, 2011, Dr. Nashed’s family told AFP that her health had “greatly worsened” in detention and issued a statement that read in part:
During the last visit her husband was able to make to the Douma prison on September 25, Rafah Nashed appeared very weak, suffering from more and more marked coronary problems. … She was exhausted and, there being nowhere to sit in the visiting area, she was forced to call short her meeting with her husband. … Every hour, every minute is now crucial to save Rafah Nashed’s life. Her family, her loved ones, and the entire scientific and psychoanalytic community solemnly urge [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad to end this iniquitous and inhuman detention.
In an October 2, 2011, letter, French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy described Dr. Nashed as an “independent and accomplished woman, known the world over whose life and work honor Syria, Syrian and Arab women, and indeed all women,” and added:
I dare to hope that those who are in a position to do so render Rafah Nashed to her family without waiting further. … It seems inconceivable that this clinician, who dedicates herself to therapeutics and study, can be a threat to public order, to state security.
In mid October the Association Mondiale de Psychanalyse in Paris reported that a Damascus judge rejected an appeal for Dr. Nashed’s release. She remained in pretrial detention, reportedly in solitary confinement for 7 weeks and then in a cell with 15 other prisoners, until her release.
In early October 2011, the presidents of the Société Psychoanalytique de Paris (SPP), the European Psychoanalysis Federation (EPF), and the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) signed a petition calling for Dr. Neshad’s release from detention. On October 7, 2011, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe expressed France’s “indignation” over the Syrian government’s refusal to free Dr. Nashed.
On October 27, 2011, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Syrian authorities “immediately and unconditionally to release Ms. Nashed on medical and humanitarian grounds and to guarantee her physical safety and return her to her family without further delay.”
As mentioned above, Dr. Nashed was among a group of 1,180 people detained for their alleged involvement in anti-government activities who were reportedly released on November 15, 2011 because Syrian authorities determined that they “had not spilled any blood.” Following her release, her family issued a thank you letter in her behalf that read in part:
Our gratitude naturally goes to the entire international scientific community and, particularly, to the psychoanalytical community who, first in France, then progressively across the world, contributed to keeping an intense mobilization alive. . . . To all, be assured that your support, comforting words, and friendship were very precious during this difficult time. Rafah has not yet had the joy of holding her first granddaughter in her arms, but thanks to you and your tremendous mobilization, and the inextinguishable determination you have shown, the prospect of this union has become possible.