Worlds worst prison where lags eat mice and guards kill using human trampoline

We've all seen a film that features life behind bars. Often, these dramatisations make prison seem somewhat over-the-top, with a lot of focus on brutality.

But there's one prison which was known globally as the worst in the world up until a few years ago: Tadmor. Amnesty International described the prison as “synonymous with suffering" as inmates were regularly beaten and tortured.

The Tadmor prison was in Palmyra in Syria, having been built by the French in the 1930s, in heart of the Arabian deserts. Originally, it was set to be military barracks, but things changed in the 1980s.

Syrian poet Faraj Bayrakdar, who spent four years locked up, described it once as a "kingdom of death and madness".


President Hafiz al-Assad was the main factor in things taking a turn for the worse in Tadmor. After an assassination attempt on his life in 1980, al-Assad's brother Rifaat ordered the Tampor massacre, where between 600 to 1,000 alleged members of the Society of Muslim Brothers were executed.

It's believed their bodies were dumped in a mass grave outside the prison.

Keep quiet

Prisoners were kept isolated from the outside world and forbidden to communicate with each other; being warned that execution could come at any time.

The prison was set up in a circular shape, allowing guards to be able to watch all prisoners at any one time.

Inmates were not allowed to lift their heads, look up or look at each other.

Around 20,000 people were imprisoned between 1980 and 1990, a large chunk of them being political activists. This caused an overcrowding issue so bad that prisoners had to take turns standing while others slept

Executed while 'out on a breather'

The prison guards and officials showed no mercy to inmates. Faraj Bayraqdar’s memoir about his time in the cells is a brutal read.

In one chapter, he explains that prisoners who had been locked up all day were sometimes given "breathers" where they were allowed ramble around the courtyard – only to be tortured and killed, sometimes by just being beaten to death.

'Human trampoline'

Faraj's book also details some of the torturous methods used to interrogate prisoners.

Upon entering the prison, they were asked to drink water from a sewerage drain. According to another prisoner, Mustafa Khalifa, those who refused were killed.

One man was forced to swallow a dead mouse by a group of guards. Though Faraj notes it did not kill him, he slowly went insane in the aftermath.

An elderly inmate was held to the ground so he could lick the boot of an officer.

Lashings were regular, while other prisoners were made to stand in the same position for hours until their bodies eventually gave in.

Perhaps the most gruesome recollection from Faraj is the story of a guard using an inmate as a 'human trampoline' – jumping up and down on him before eventually, he landed on his neck and spinal cord, killing him instantly.


The prison was taken over by the Islamic State in 2015.

They released pictures of the inside – marking the first time the public had ever seen the walls.

Nine days after the takeover, the prison was blown up by IS.

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