Activists mourn American-Syrian psychotherapist Majd Kamalmaz

Activists mourn American-Syrian psychotherapist Majd Kamalmaz
The psychotherapist and humanitarian was detained on a trip to Damascus in 2017 and his family has not heard from him since.
4 min read
24 May, 2024
Children are photographed playing in an IDP camp NW Syria [Hadia Al Mansour]

The family of an American-Syrian psychotherapist detained in Syria has called for accountability after the US government informed them he died in custody in Syria.

Majd Kamalmaz was one of half a dozen Americans believed to be held by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, with some of them allegedly suffering torture.

Kamalmaz travelled to the Syrian capital in 2017 to pay respects to his father-in-law and never returned home.

Maryam, his daughter, told PBS News that around eight US government officials gathered to tell them the news.

"They very, very clearly stated that they believe they have highly classified information that indicates that he has passed," she said, adding they believed the information was highly credible and that he died within the Syrian government’s prisons.

"There was no way for us to continue having any form of hope, basically, that he would be alive," she continued, calling the news devastating.

According to another one of his daughters, Ula, the family had not heard from him for around seven years, which was very difficult for the family.

Earlier this week, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said his heart goes out to the family and that they have "engaged extensively to try to bring Kamalmaz home, and we remain committed to seeking full accountability of his fate".

Maryam pointed out that the US administration is "not doing enough" and should push harder for accountability.

The Texas-based family announced they now plan to sue authorities in Syria for the disappearance of Kamalmaz.

‘American hero’

Online, tributes have poured in for the well-known psychotherapist.

"The White House has refused to comment on the death of Syrian American Majd Kamalmaz inside Assad’s prisons. Their silence speaks louder than any answer they could have given, the message has been received loud and clear despite not one word being spoken," one social media user wrote.

"Majd Kamalmaz was an American hero, he was in Louisiana after Katrina, in Bosnia after the genocide, in Indonesia after the tsunami and in Syria to help the victims Assad. Assad’s regime killed him and the US government must hold Assad and his criminal regime accountable," another said.

"I met Majd Kamalmaz at many events in Lebanon. He was an honest and respectful man. My deepest condolences to his family and all his loved ones. Years ago we received the same news about my brothers being killed in Assad’s prisons. I feel everything you are going through right now," Amneh Khoulani, a Syrian human rights defender based in the UK, said on X.

"Justice for Majd and all of Syria’s disappeared. This should remind world leaders that Assad’s Syria is a torture state and is nowhere near safe for refugees to return to," The Syria Campaign posted on X.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) condemned his killing and said the Syrian regime denied allowing anyone to visit him or a lawyer and has "spared no effort in pursuing, detaining and forcibly disappearing figures with no legal justification".

The rights group said they have intelligence which states he had good health at the time of his arrest, indicating a strong probability that he died due to torture and medical negligence in a regime detention centre.

SNHR highlighted that the Syrian government did not disclose the death his death to the family at the time it happened, nor have they returned his body.

Who was Kamalmaz?

Kamalmaz was a renowned psychotherapist who led an NGO that treated young victims of war, including in Bosnia, as well as children affected by the 2004 Boxing Say Tsunami in Indonesia and Hurricane Katrina.

Kamalmaz also assisted Syrian refugees in Lebanon, helping them with humanitarian and medical services.

A missing person report published by the FBI in 2017 states Kamalmaz was also looking to establish a clinic to give aid to those who have been traumatised by the Syrian civil war during his trip.

After arriving there, he was stopped at a Syrian Government checkpoint in Mezzeh, a suburb of Damascus, and has not been heard or seen from since that day.

They added that he is diabetic and requires medication.

Since the first days of the Syrian revolution, in March 2011, the regime pursued a policy of brutality against protestors. Scores were killed in Syria's streets and squares, and thousands were arrested by the regime's various security services.

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During the ensuing decade, the regime imprisoned tens of thousands of Syrians, including women, children, and the elderly. Nobody was exempt from arrests and forced disappearances.

The SNHR put the number of arbitrary detentions between March 2011 and March 2020 in Syria at 151,462. The network stated that the number of those tortured to death between March 2011 and March 2020 reached 14,664, among them 181 children and 93 women.

The regime has still not faced any accountability for its crimes against millions of Syrians, with little pressure being put on Assad or his allies to release those detained.