Friday, January 21

German court expected to accuse Assad regime in Syria of torture | Syria

A German court is expected to issue a verdict against a former Syrian intelligence official accused of overseeing the murder of 58 people and the torture of thousands more, in a landmark case that is expected to criminalize the actions of the Assad regime over the past decade. . against humanity for the first time.

The verdict against Anwar Raslan, a former regime loyalist colonel who later defected and fled Syria, is both a highly symbolic moment for the Syrian opposition in exile and a potential risk for those seeking to bring more war criminals to justice in the future. some of whom say a harsh sentence could deter other defectors from speaking openly with authorities.

Raslan, 58, is charged with crimes against humanity, rape, aggravated sexual assault and murder at Branch 251, an intelligence unit with its own prison, also known as “al-Khatib” after the neighborhood of the same name. in Damascus, where he allegedly supervised the torture. of at least 4,000 people as a commanding officer between April 29, 2011 and September 7, 2012.

The former officer is being tried under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of crimes in one country even if they occurred in another.

If the court finds Raslan guilty, as the main perpetrator rather than just an assistant in these crimes, he could face a life sentence on Thursday, with no possibility of early release until he is 15 years old.

During 107 days of trial in a regional court in the southwestern German city of Koblenz, the judge heard statements from nearly 50 witnesses who had survived the Branch 251 facility, several of whom appeared as co-plaintiffs.

They described how suspects detained by the regime were beaten by guards with metal fists, sticks, cables and pipes, and held in tight cells whose vents were intermittently closed to induce panic.

Wassim Mukdad, a Syrian musician and witness at the trial, speaks to journalists in Koblenz.
Wassim Mukdad, a Syrian musician and witness at the trial, speaks to journalists in Koblenz. Photograph: Thomas Frey / AP

“It was always the same cycle,” said musician Wassim Mukdad when he appeared in front of the Koblenz court in August 2020. “I said something, they beat me, I said something, they beat me, etc., etc. They knew exactly where to hit me to cause the most pain. “

Another witness, a former funeral service worker in Damascus, recalled being recruited by Syrian intelligence to take his victims to mass graves outside the city, on average four trips a week, each time with up to 700 bodies.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, an independent UK-based watchdog group, at least 130,000 people have been forcibly detained or disappeared by the Bashar al-Assad regime. since March 2021.

Raslan’s defense attorneys have tried to dismiss some of the evidence, arguing that none of the witnesses was directly tortured by the defendant himself.

The former intelligence official said in court that he had ceased to identify with the Syrian state after 2011 and that, as a Sunni from the Houla region, Assad’s mostly Alawite generals did not trust him. After defecting, he fled to Jordan in 2012 and was granted humanitarian asylum in Germany in 2014, where he said he did not try to cover up his past.

During the trial, Raslan claimed that after arriving in Germany he lived in fear of retaliation from the Syrian regime and contacted the Berlin police in February 2015 because he was convinced that he was being followed.

The police officer who questioned him at the time told the Koblenz court that while Raslan’s fear of retaliation was real, she had not considered him to be under real threat in Germany.

Germany’s federal criminal police began investigating Raslan in 2017, after he described in detail his role in Syria’s security apparatus during an interview with the Stuttgart police, purportedly to assist in their investigations into another officer. He was arrested in February 2019.

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