A German court on Thursday sentenced a former Syrian colonel to life in prison for crimes against humanity in a historic first global trial over state-sponsored torture in Syria.
Anwar Raslan, 58, was found guilty of supervising the murder of 27 people at Al-Khatib detention center in Damascus, also known as “Branch 251”, in 2011 and 2012.
He fled to Germany after deserting the Syrian regime in 2012.
Prosecutors had accused him of overseeing the murder of 58 people and the torture of 4,000 others at the detention center, but not all of the deaths could be proven.
The defendant, dressed in a green winter jacket and listening to the verdict through headphones, remained emotionless as his sentence was read out in court.
More than 80 witnesses, including 12 deserters from the regime and many Syrian men and women now living across Europe, took the stand to testify at the trial, with about a dozen also attending the verdict.
The presiding judge said they deserved “full respect”.
Syrian activists gathered outside the court on Thursday holding banners and posters with slogans such as “Where are they?” referring to their missing relatives in Syrian detention centers.
Raslan was tried in April 2020 along with another lower-ranking defendant, Eyad al-Gharib, accused of helping arrest protesters and leading them to the detention center.
Gharib was sentenced to four and a half years in prison last year for complicity in crimes against humanity, in the first global verdict for torture by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Systematic attack” The court in the city of Koblenz, in western Germany, then noted a “widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population” since the start of the civil war in Syria with a brutal repression of demonstrations in March 2011.
The case against the two men was brought under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows offenses to be prosecuted even if they were committed in a different country.
Other similar cases have also erupted in Germany, France and Sweden, with Syrians having sought refuge in Europe turning to the only legal means currently available to them.
In another important case in Germany, the trial of a former Syrian doctor accused of crimes against humanity is due to open next week.
Chief prosecutor Raslan, who underscored Germany’s historic responsibility to try such crimes, quoted a Holocaust survivor in his closing speech.
Raslan worked for 18 years in Syria’s secret service, where he rose through the ranks to become head of the domestic intelligence “investigative” service, according to a German investigator who testified at the opening of the trial.
Prosecutors say he oversaw rape and sexual abuse, “electric shocks”, beatings with “fists, wires and whips” and “sleep deprivation” at the prison.
Flogging, electric shocks Witnesses reported floggings, electric shocks, cigarette burns and blows to the genitals. Some say they were hung by the wrists, only the tips of their feet still touching the ground.
A man testified about mass graves that he was responsible for cataloging.
Some witnesses hid their faces or appeared in disguise, fearing consequences for their surviving relatives in Syria, while other victims were too scared to come forward.
“I hope we have been able to give voice to those who are deprived of it” in Syria, former detainee Wassim Mukdad, who testified at the trial, told AFP before the verdict.
“I want justice done,” he said.
Images of dead Syrians smuggled out of the country by “Caesar”, a defector who had worked as a photographer for the Syrian military police, were also used as evidence in the trial.
Raslan remained silent throughout the trial but said in a statement through his lawyers that he had “neither beaten or tortured” prisoners and had “never acted inhumanely”.
They said he “did not and would not tolerate” the abuses committed by the Syrian regime and felt “regret and compassion” for all victims.
Raslan has never tried to hide his past and told police about his time in Syria in February 2015 when he sought police protection in Berlin.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, at least 60,000 people have been killed under torture or because of the terrible conditions in Assad’s detention centers.
“This trial is very important for Syrians because it examines very serious crimes that continue to be committed today,” said Syrian lawyer Joumana Seif.
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