German court to rule on Syrian human rights violators

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A court in Koblenz, Germany, will rule on Thursday in the case of Enver Raslan, a former Syrian secret police officer accused of crimes against humanity for overseeing torture in a prison near Damascus, Syria a decade ago.

Victims and human rights activists say they hope the landmark court ruling will be the first step towards justice for the countless Syrians who have suffered human rights abuses at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s government in the country’s long-running conflict.

Speaking before the verdict was announced this week, one of those testifying against Raslan said that whatever the outcome, court proceedings in Germany will send an important message that those responsible for crimes in Syria can be held accountable.

Wassim Mukdad from Syria, at the European offices of the European Center for Constitution and Human Rights, Germany, 19 April 2020.

Wassim Mukdad, a torture survivor who, like the defendants, now lives in Germany, said that “as a Syrian who suffered a lot, especially after the start of the revolution, (the court showed this) the suffering was not in vain”. .

Mukdad was one of dozens of people who testified against Raslan and the second defendant, Eyad al-Gharib, who was convicted of crimes against humanity last year and sentenced to four years in prison by the Koblenz state court.

The court concluded that Al-Gharib was a member of the unit that detained anti-government protesters and took them to a facility in the Syrian city of Douma, known as Al Khatib or Branch 251.

Federal prosecutors allege that Raslan served as the senior officer in charge of the prison and oversaw “systematic and brutal torture” of more than 4,000 detainees between April 2011 and September 2012, which resulted in at least 58 deaths.

The presiding judge, Anne Kerber (centre), stands before handing the verdict to Syrian defendant Eyad A. in the courtroom in Koblenz, Germany, on February 24, 2021.  (Thomas Lohnes/Pool via REUTERS)

The presiding judge, Anne Kerber (centre), stands before handing the verdict to Syrian defendant Eyad A. in the courtroom in Koblenz, Germany, on February 24, 2021. (Thomas Lohnes/Pool via REUTERS)

Lawyer Patrick Kroker from the European Center for Constitution and Human Rights, who represented some of the victims at the hearing, said the court heard evidence showing that Raslan was involved in 30 deaths. He said sexual assault cases were also considered as part of the charge.

One of the key pieces of evidence against Raslan is photographs of torture victims allegedly smuggled out of Syria by a former police officer using the alias Caesar.

If found guilty, Raslan will face life in prison. His lawyer asked the court last week to release Raslan and to claim that his client had never personally harassed anyone and that Raslan had fled in late 2012. [ab/uh]

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