6 min read
Inside the Ahmad H. Trial #1: The First Day of the Proceedings
Higher Regional Court in Hamburg, Germany

Inside the Ahmad H. Trial #1: The First Day of the Proceedings

Hanseatic Higher Regional Court – Hamburg, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #1

Hearing Date: May 17, 2024

CAUTION: Some testimony includes descriptions of torture.

Note that this summary is not a verbatim transcript of the trial; it is merely an unofficial summary of the proceedings.

Throughout this summary, [information located in brackets are notes from our trial monitor] and “information placed in quotes are statements made by the witness, judges or counsel.” The names and identifying information of witnesses have been redacted.

[Note: SJAC provides a summary of the proceedings while redacting certain details to protect witness privacy and to preserve the integrity of the trial.]

Day 1 – May 17, 2024

The proceedings began at 11:20 AM at the Higher Regional Court in Hamburg, Germany, with a delay of more than two hours. This was because the Accused had appeared in flip flops (sandals) to the trial and “court appropriate” clothing had to be found for him.

In the spectator gallery there were five journalists, a class of high school students [from Hamburg] with two teachers and two to three public spectators.

The case is being tried by three judges, including Judge Dr. von Freier, Judge Dr. Meinken and Judge Dr. Sakuth, serving as the Presiding Judge. The prosecution is represented by Dr. Grätsch, Senior Public Prosecutor at the Federal Court of Justice and Prosecutor Dr. Sahm. The Accused is represented by two Defense Counsels: Dr. Moschref and Dr. Schaper. The Arabic-language interpreter for the Accused is Mr. Adnan Haloui.

[The Accused, Ahmad H., entered the courtroom in a dark gray sweatshirt with a checkered shirt underneath. While the press took photos of him before the trial began, Ahmad H. covered his face with a beige folder.]

Opening of the Trial

Presiding Judge Sakuth opened the trial of Ahmad H. at the Higher Regional Court in Hamburg. The Defense Counsel asked permission to place the interpreter next to H. due to the strong linguistic barriers of the Accused. Judge Sakuth granted this. He then verified the personal details of the Accused and recalled that Ahmad H. has been in pre-trial detention since August 2, 2023.

Prosecutor Grätsch then read out the indictment. The indictment consists of 21 counts [note: The decision of the German Federal Court of February 21, 2024 includes only 16 counts], alleging Ahmad H. of crimes committed between 2012 and 2015, as a member of a ‘Shabiha militia’ integrated into the ‘National Defense Forces’ of the Syrian regime, in the Damascus district of At-Tadamon. The Prosecution accused Ahmad H. of crimes against humanity and war crimes. More specifically, the Accused is charged these crimes for having tortured patients by causing them physical and mental pain, enslavement, cruel and inhuman treatment, deprivation of physical liberty under threat of a dangerous weapon [Section 224 of the German Criminal Code]and appropriation of property for the benefit of a third party.

The Prosecutors stated that Ahmad H. joined the Shabiha militia in 2011. They then elaborated on the circumstances in Syria at the time. They recalled that on behalf of the Syrian regime, the Shabiha militia was tasked with violently suppressing opposition efforts in At-Tadamon together with Branch 227 of the Syrian Military Intelligence Service. The Prosecution argued that the alleged crimes committed by Ahmad H. were part of the Syrian regime’s widespread and systematic violent acts of suppression against the civilian population. According to the indictment, on 16 April, members of Branch 227 killed at least 47 civilians in mass executions.

Three criminal counts of the indictment refer to crimes committed against three anonymous witnesses: P1; P2 and P3. The witnesses were identified with court provided pseudonyms.

In the case of P1 the Prosecution recounted events that presumably occurred between 2012 and 2014, in which Ahmad H. is alleged to have arrested witness P1, as well as 20 other individuals and coerced them into forced labor at the Kastana Factory. This involved filling sandbags and bringing them to the nearby front line. The witness's car was destroyed, and the witness was beaten by other Shabiha militia personnel, which was observed by Ahmad H. On another account, the Prosecution presented the alleged events on an “unspecified day in 2014”, whereby the same witness was taken again to the Kastana Factory by Ahmad H., together with another 25-30 individuals. There they had to carry 350 sandbags to the third floor of the factory and the witness was allegedly threatened by Ahmad H. with a wooden stick. The prisoners allegedly worked under repeated fire bombardment and without food and water supplies. Some of them were mistreated by the Accused or other members of the militia. In some cases, Ahmad H. is accused of having taken cash and mobile phones from them and kept them for himself.

The Prosecution presented other witness accounts in which the Accused Ahmad H. is allegedly involved. For example, in one incident in 2013, according to the witness testimony of P4 [redacted name], a floor tiler, who had undertaken work for Ahmad H.’s boss P5 [redacted name] is supposed to have arrested P4, tied him up and beaten him. Moreover, he instructed militia members to beat the witness with plastic pipes of 2 cm diameter. The day after, the witness is supposed to have been mistreated again. The Prosecution stated that the witness suffered a laceration that day and carries a scar from those events that is still visible today.

In autumn 2014, Ahmad H., together with other militiamen and members of the Syrian Military Intelligence Service, is alleged to have repeatedly beaten and kicked a civilian (minimum 20 times with a boot) at a checkpoint. The victim cried out “I am not a terrorist”, after which the Accused is alleged to have grabbed the victim by the hair and to have slammed his head onto the pavement.

In addition, the Prosecution presented cases up to and including November 2015, in which Ahmad H. helped himself to goods from shops in the neighborhood of Damascus without paying for them in various cases.

After the indictment had been read out, Judge Sakuth asked the Accused whether he wished to comment or explain himself at this time, which Ahmad H. denied by saying ‘not at this time’.

The Presiding Judge also noted that a witness was supposed to be heard today but was unable to attend. This witness will be heard later on in the process of the trial.

In addition, Judge Sakuth noted that the Office of the Federal Prosecutor had requested mutual legal assistance from the U.S.A. in relation to evidence on a USB stick. Senior Public Prosecutor Grätsch announced that the copy of the stick has been sent to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), which must process the unstructured data on the stick.

The Defense Counsel then argued for a trial suspension, due to the problematic anonymity of three witnesses in terms of their identity and their residence. The Defense argued that due to the anonymity of the witnesses, the Defense Counsel was not able to prepare appropriately regarding the testimony of the witnesses and that it made the verifiability of the statements of the witnesses much more difficult. Moreover, it was argued that anonymity of witnesses is problematic with regard to asylum claims and potential deviating information provided in these claims. It was also argued that the witnesses' identities could be revealed since their safety would not be threatened in Germany.

The Prosecutors dismissed these arguments by claiming that the witnesses are acquainted with an individual from the Shabiha militia and are related between themselves. Thus, speaking out against the Accused and having to reveal their identity and location could be extremely dangerous for the safety of the witnesses and their families. The Prosecution also referred to other trials (e.g. in the Netherlands) related to the Syrian conflict in which witnesses that spoke out and revealed their identity had received death threats from the Shabiha militia.

The Defense Counsel then argued that referring to similar cases is a generalization and cannot be applied to the individual case of Ahmad H.

The lunch break followed.


[60 - minutes - break]


After the break, Judge Sakuth resumed by rejecting the motion of the Defense Counsel, on the grounds of witness protection (Section § 68 (2) German Criminal Code) and the circumstances in Syria. He stated that by revealing the identity of the witnesses or their location, the witnesses’ life and the life of their families would be severely endangered. The Judge further argued that the video footage evidence that is part of this trial "speaks for itself", i.e. in terms of the brutality of the crimes committed. Hence, while the witness testimony is important for this trial, Judge Sakuth stated, in this trial it is not a "testimony against testimony situation", which might in fact require a revelation of the identity of witnesses.

Since the witness, who was supposed to be heard on this trial day could not be present, the proceedings were adjourned.

The proceedings were adjourned at 1:45 PM

The next trial day will be on May 29, 2024, at 9 AM.


For more information or to provide feedback, please contact SJAC at [email protected] and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to SJAC’s newsletter for updates on our work