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Former Syrian officer convicted of crimes against humanity in Germany | Syria: the gears of war

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The High Regional Court of Koblenz (West) found Syrian Anwar Raslan, 58, guilty of the death and torture of prisoners in a secret detention center of power in Damascus, between 2011 and 2012.

This is the second conviction in this trial after that, in February 2021, of a former member of Syrian intelligence, of a lower rank.

The judges accepted the guilt of the ex-colonel for the murder of 27 people in the detention center of Al-Khatib, also known as branch 251, a place of sinister reputation for the cruelty of its agents and their practices.

Hailing a verdict historical, the managing director of the NGO Human Rights Watch (HWR), Kenneth Roth, pointed out that torture and murder in detention […] are a key part of the Assad government’s modus operandi.

The tribunal clearly and formally established inhumane conditions of detention, systematic acts of torture, sexual violence and killings in Syria, reacted Markus N. Beeko, head of Amnesty International in Germany.

A historic trial

Almost 11 years after the start of the popular uprising in Syria, the concluding hearing was the first to examine the crimes attributed to the Syrian regime.

In 2016, a UN commission of inquiry accused the Assad regime ofexterminate inmates.

A woman holds a sign calling for the international community to intervene in Syria.  Beside her, a woman holds the photos of two of her relatives.

Relatives of victims took advantage of the trial to convey their message to the international community. “Now that you have proof of what is happening in Syria, you have a responsibility to stop it,” read this sign held up by a woman.

Photo: Getty Images / BERND LAUTER

Anwar Raslan, who headed the branch 251 investigations department, remained silent throughout this long-running trial which began on April 23, 2020. His lawyers had read, during the hearings, a written statement in which the former officer denied its involvement in the death and torture of detainees.

Thursday morning, he listened to the verdict, translated into Arabic, without apparent emotion, noted an AFP journalist.

In the first part of this trial, which was very popular with the large Syrian community in exile, Eyad al-Gharib, a former member of these intelligence services, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.

For these proceedings, Germany applies the legal principle of universal jurisdiction which allows a state to prosecute the perpetrators of the most serious crimes, regardless of their nationality and where they were committed.

At least a dozen victims attended the verdict. Syrian families gathered outside the court, holding banners and posters demanding where are they? with reference to the missing in Syrian detention centers.

During the trial, more than 80 witnesses marched to the stand, exposing the abuse suffered in unsanitary and crowded cells.

They testified despite a great fear of the Syrian regime, whether for themselves or for their families. I owe them all my respect, underlined the President of the Court, Anne Kerber, during the reading of the verdict.

Detainees tortured, starved and burned

Al-Khatib detainees were not only tortured, but also starved and deprived of air, she again described. They have received beatings all over the body, especially the soles of the feet, they were hung up by the wrists and suffered electric shocks and burns.

For the first time, photos of Caesar had been presented in court. This ex-military photographer exfiltrated at the risk of his life more than 50,000 photos showing thousands of inmates who had been tortured.

I hope we were able to give a voice to those who are deprived of it in Syria, told AFP Wassim Mukdad, civil party for this trial.

Four women are arguing in court.  Two of them hold a frame with photos of their loved ones.

Relatives of the victims followed the trial with a lot. Before the verdict, Thursday, they gathered in front of the court, often brandishing photos of these relatives, who died at the hands of the Syrian regime.

Photo: Getty Images / AFP / BERND LAUTER

The conflict in Syria has claimed nearly 500,000 lives and pushed 6.6 million people into exile abroad.

Anwar Raslan, in pre-trial detention for three years, has made no secret of his past when he took refuge in Berlin with his family in 2014.

His defenders have since continued to argue that he defected in 2012 and tried to spare the prisoners.

Another trial linked to the Syrian regime, that of a refugee doctor in Germany, is due to open next Thursday in Frankfurt.

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