Until one day in early August, the Syrian government issued his death certificate.
"We don't know when he died exactly," Huda says to her relative.
Abdul Ghafour Halasi, an anesthesiologist, was arrested in the early years of Syria's war. He vanished into an abyss of prisons and military intelligence centers, and was one of around 82,000 forcibly disappeared people that local and international rights groups demanded the Syrian government return.
Families scrambled to track down their imprisoned relatives and scraped together money to try to secure their release. Much of the time, their efforts were in vain. An old maxim resurfaced about the regime's arbitrary detentions: "Those inside the prisons have disappeared. Those who managed to get out, have a new lease on life."
Abdul Ghafour Halasi was last seen in Saydnaya prison just outside Damascus. Amnesty International dubbed Saydnaya "the human slaughterhouse
" in a 2017 report after extensively documenting mass hangings at the detention center.
Until May, Syria's government refused to disclose the status of its unaccounted-for prisoners, and President Bashar al-Assad dismissed leaked photographs of thousands of dead inmates as "fake.
With Russian and Iranian backing, Assad remains in control. And, in an apparent attempt to turn the page on one of the darkest chapters in the country's seven-year war, human rights groups say that Syrian officials released the death notices of more than 800 prisoners over the course of this summer. However, the bodies of loved ones, have not been returned.
"The war is winding down and (the government) is trying to normalize relations with the different parts of Syria as quickly as it can," says Joshua Landis, Syria expert and Director of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "A big part of that is explaining what's happened to people."
With the civil records of some of Syria's missing now marked "deceased," the government could be getting rid of some bureaucratic bottlenecks, and re-instituting government order and processes. The wives of deceased prisoners are now officially widows. Property disputes that hung in the balance because owners were missing can be resolved. T