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Inside the Ahmad H. Trial #3: The Source

Inside the Ahmad H. Trial #3: The Source

Hanseatic Higher Regional Court – Hamburg, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #3

Hearing Dates: June 5 & 6, 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.]

SJAC’s 3rd trial monitoring report details days 4 and 5 of the trial of Ahmad H. in Hamburg, Germany. On the first day this week a new witness was questioned. P2 is a former member of the Syrian military who found several videos of killings of civilians including a video of the At-Tadamon massacre on a laptop of a secret service branch member. The witness also recounted two specific events in which he claimed to have seen Ahmad H. beating a civilian in his position as NDF member.

On the second day, the questioning continued. The most part was dedicated to the Defense’s questioning. The Defense was adamant in confronting the witness with statements he had made during a police interrogation in 2022. It seemed that the Defense intended to make the witness appear unreliable. While the witness, who was under protection measures and did not reveal his identity in the courtroom, testified about these events, the Accused spoke up stating to the Judge that he knew this person.

Day 4 – June 5, 2024

The day began with the questioning of the second witness, [redacted information], P2.  The witness was accompanied by two guards from the witness protection unit and his lawyer Rolf Buschbeck. The interpreter served, as on trial day 2 and 3, for the entire session from 9 am until 4 pm for the Accused and the witness.

With respect to witness protection, the Judge explained that the witness did not have to reveal any information regarding his person (i.e. name, date of birth, address). However, when the Judge started the questioning of the witness, he did ask the witness about his career history. The witness recounted that he was born in [redacted location], he lived in At-Tadamon from [redacted time], and undertook military service from [redacted time]. The witness explained to have some IT knowledge but that his responsibilities in the military were mostly administrative. The witness added that he was responsible for writing salary lists and repairing computers, laptops and phones.

The Judge then asked the witness to describe how life had unfolded since the civil war began in Syria, and more specifically in At-Tadamon. The witness recounted how the NDF as well as the Secret Service Branch 227 started to control civil society and the territory of At-Tadamon by creating checkpoints.

The Judge then asked the witness whether he knew specific names of NDF members. The witness recalled the names: [redacted name]; [redacted name]; and [redacted name]. The witness explained that the members under the command of [redacted name] were Abu Haider Trucks أبو حيدر تركس, [redacted name] (who according to the witness looks like Mario from the video game Mario and Luigi) and [redacted name].

The witness was then asked by the Judge what he knew about the tasks of Abu Haider Trucks, identified by P2 as the Accused. P2 recalled that he drove the excavators and was generally responsible for transportation.

The witness was also able to recount certain events in which the Accused was involved because he had witnessed them personally. One of these key scenarios involved P2 seeing a man driving his bike around a corner of a street in At-Tadamon, where the Accused was standing. P2 remembered having seen the Accused kicking the man on the bike, which resulted in him falling off to the ground. P2 added that he saw the Accused arresting the man who fell and putting him into a car, in which 8-10 other people were already sitting. The Judge then confronted the witness with a statement he had made in a previous police interrogation where he said that 30 people were already sitting in the car. The Judges continued to confront the witness with his own statements made during police investigations on August 16 and on August 18 in 2022 which resulted in discrepancies with his in-court testimony.

When P2 was recounting an event involving the Accused, Ahmad H. informed the interpreter that he wanted to explain something to the Judge. Instead, the Defense Counsel shushed Ahmad H. The Judge said he would not allow any shushing of the Accused. When the Defense Counsel then spoke for Ahmad H., explaining that the Accused did not understand the interpreter, the Judge simply replied that H. would have to ask for clarification. The Judge added that he would not interrupt the questioning for this.

The Judge was interested to know how P2 knew certain facts about Ahmad H. For instance, from where he knew the Accused’s name and religious affiliation or how he learned about acts of violence committed by NDF members. The witness often answered, “This is what I inferred from what was generally known” or “It happened every day in At-Tadamon...” Another event P2 recounted, was that he witnessed how Abu Haider Trucks beat a man who was standing in line at a bakery and had allegedly answered “disrespectfully” to Abu Haider’s boss, [redacted name]. According to the witness, the bread sold there was collected from different bakeries by the militia without paying for it and then sold for more money to civilians and soldiers. The same was done with different things stolen from houses in the At-Tadamon neighborhood. The witness recalled that there were flea markets in At-Tadamon known as “flea markets for stolen things” where these materials were sold. P2 remembered having seen the Accused off-loading stolen material from a car.

The witness was also asked by the Judge whether he had seen Ahmad H. being involved in forced labor activities. P2 said he was never coerced to undertake forced labor but knew 6-7 friends, who had been forced and told him how it happened. According to the witness, civilians were compelled to transport sandbags to the frontline and dig tunnels. They did not wear protective clothing and were shouted at and offended while working. They also did not receive any food. The civilians were, however, never held overnight but instead released at the end of the day, according to P2.

The witness recounted that his friends told him that Ahmad H., together with [redacted name], was present at one of these events. They arrested two people, put them into a car and drove them towards the frontline. They told the arrested individuals to look at the dangerous frontline and that if they wanted to be exempt from working there, they would have to pay. According to P2, all his friends paid.

The Judge also asked the witness about Ahmad H.’s alcohol and drug consumption. P2 replied that he did not know anything about it specifically but that one could “tell that he was intoxicated because he was often aggressive and angry.”


[10 - minutes - break]


After the break the Judge asked the witness about photographs shown to him during the police interrogation. P2 said he could identify Ahmad H., [redacted name], [redacted name] and Amjad Y. The Judge then inquired more about the latter name and his function. P2 recalled that he was part of Branch 227 and was responsible for the district close to the [redacted information] in At-Tadamon.

When asked by the Judge, the witness then elaborated on how he found the videos watched on trial day 2 & 3 [see Trial Report #2] on the laptop of Amjad Y. The Judge then continued by asking the witness about how he found the videos exactly. P2 recounted having been tasked by Amjad Y. to repair his laptop and while doing so P2 found a folder on the laptop which, according to the witness, was not hidden but saved on the desktop and named “For the soul of [redacted name] [brother of Amjad Y.].” The witness later added that he had sent the videos to a person, who in turn passed them to P5.


[60 - minutes - break]


During lunch break, the Defense Counsel said to his partner “I am going to break him,” [referring to the witness] which was audible in the public gallery.

After the break the questioning of the witness was resumed. The Prosecution only had a few questions for the witness. It wanted to know which checkpoints existed in At-Tadamon and where they were located. P2 recalled the following checkpoints: Al-Hasan الحسن (named after the mosque); Al-Battikha البطيخة (in “Al-Yarmouk اليرموك”, in the north); Baraka بركة and Kastana كستنا (close to a factory). The Prosecution also wanted to know where the frontline was located. The witness described that the frontline was not a clear line but that it ran from “Al-Yarmouk” to the [redacted information] in a straight line.

The Prosecution also asked the witness whether he knew what type of weapon the Accused used and whether it had any special marks. The witness remembered that he carried a Kalashnikov with a wooden buttstock.

Subsequently, the Defense Counsel started to question the witness. He started with questions regarding the witness’ career, especially regarding his [redacted information] to military service and when he was hiding exactly. The Defense also asked about P2’s relationship to the first witness, P5. The witness explained having met her in December 2021 upon her contact attempt. P2 recalled that she was asking for specific videos because she did not have the full list of videos.

The Defense Counsel also tried to ask questions about the appearance of the witness such as his wig and glasses, which were granted by the Judges for witness protection reasons. The attempt by the Defense to question the measures was immediately interrupted by the Judge.


[5 - minutes - break]


After the break and shortly before the session terminated, the Defense started to read out a motion, which took approximately half an hour to read. The Defense Counsel referred to a list of ten witnesses. Some of them were anonymized, others not, and all had applied for asylum in Germany. In the motion, the Defense argued that it was necessary to acquire the asylum hearing transcripts’ content for each of the ten cases. Moreover, the Defense requested to summon each immigration officer as a witness. The Judge angrily replied that he did not understand the urgency to read out the motion during the questioning of a witness and that it was completely pointless and could have been done at another moment, after the testimony of the witness. He pointed out how strenuous it is for a witness to be questioned for such a long time. The session was then adjourned and the resumption of the questioning of P2 was postponed to the next day.

The proceedings were adjourned at 4:00 PM.

The next trial day will be on June 6, 2024, at 9:00 AM.

Day 5 – June 6, 2024

On the second day of this week, the questioning of the witness P2 continued. The start of the session was delayed by 45 minutes because the rooms were changed, and the witness was sitting in the wrong room. The Accused had to be transported via a tunnel system that flows underneath the court building to the other courtroom.

The entire day was dedicated to the questioning of the P2 by the Defense Counsel. The Defense wanted to know what P2 knew about [redacted name], the person who recommended him to Amjad Y. as someone who could repair his laptop on which the incriminating videos were found. The witness recalled that his real name was [redacted name] and that he was from Homs. Amjad Y. instead, used to be a bouncer at a club and after the civil war had started, Amjad Y. became a military leader. The witness then described a scene in which he was on his way to [redacted name] because P2 was also repairing [redacted name]’s phone and met Amjad Y. there. Amjad Y. then asked P2 to repair his laptop. This is how P2 discovered the videos and added details to the testimony given during the previous session.

A long back and forth followed between the Defense Counsel and P2 regarding the question to which military force P2 belonged specifically. P2 explained that he was part of the “LDF”, i.e. the local defense forces and added that they were not part of the NDF but officially part of the Syrian National Army. P2 further recalled that the LDF were receiving orders from an Iranian officer.

At a random point during the questioning, the Accused told the interpreter to tell the Judge that he recognized the witness. The Judge argued that at the end of the questioning of the witness, the Defense Counsel could present a written explanation in this regard. The questioning of the witness then continued.

Several times during the questioning the Judge had to ask the Defense Counsel to return to objectivity as he was getting quite impolite. The Judge told the Counsel that he was sensing an aggressive undertone and found it very rude that the Counsel would interrupt the interpreter continuously. The Defense Counsel admitted that he was getting aggressive because he was not happy with the interpreter's work. The Judge told the Counsel “It is about how you treat people” and clarified that he would be the one who “decides how one speaks in this courtroom.”

When asked by the Defense Counsel about his refusal to do military service, the witness recounted that he was part of a minority group in At-Tadamon that had specific privileges. Meaning that they would not be persecuted, their houses would not be looted, and no one was handed out to the national police for refusal of military service. He explained that they were somewhat protected. The Defense Counsel then tried to elicit specific details from the witness, such as names or religious affiliations of people he knew in At-Tadamon, who were also part of this minority group or his group of friends. The Judge decided according to Section 68 (3) of the German Code of Criminal Procedure and the Witness Protection Harmonization Law, the witness did not have to answer. Repeatedly during the questioning of P2, the Defense Counsel's questions resulted in the interference by the Judge to safeguard the witness from this type of questioning, due to witness protection legislation.

The Defense then presented a digital map and asked the witness to show the part of At-Tadamon that was under control of the Assad Regime as well as the different checkpoints and ways in which one could get to Damascus. The witness explained that one necessarily passed by the checkpoints in At-Tadamon in order to get to Damascus. Any other road would have been too dangerous, P2 pointed out. Then the Defense Counsel asked the Accused whether this was true and when Ahmad H. denied this, the Defense Counsel asked him to point out where the other routes to Damascus were located. Ahmad H. then demonstrated these routes on the map.

The Defense then confronted the witness with several quotes from his police questionings which was also referred to by the Judge the prior day and tried to demonstrate how the witness was often making assumptions instead of telling the police what he had actually witnessed himself.

The Defense further wanted to know the exact content of P2’s asylum hearing. The witness recalled that what he had said in this Court was the same as what he stated in the asylum hearing, apart from mentioning specific names such as [redacted name] or Amjad Y.

The Defense also resumed questioning the witness about his contact with P5 as well as the precise content of their communication over the years. P2 remembered that P5 confronted him with photos of people she wanted him to identify. In addition, she presented him with information she had received from other interviewees for him to confirm or rectify. She would also ask him about the names and location of checkpoints as well as for names of members of the NDF, the witness recalled before the questioning of the witness was completed.

The proceedings were adjourned at 4:00 PM.

The next trial day will be on June 10, 2024, at 9:00 AM.


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