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Inside the Alaa M. Trial #32: Alaa M. challenges a witness to “Look me in the eye!”

Inside the Alaa M. Trial #32: Alaa M. challenges a witness to “Look me in the eye!”

Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #32

Hearing Dates: January 17 & 19, 2022

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.

SJAC’s 32nd trial monitoring report details days 51 and 52 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. On this day, after the Prosecutors asked a few questions, it was the Defense Team’s turn. They started by asking about the details of the witness’s questioning by the police. The witness was also asked about a slip of paper on which his cousin wrote personal data about the two doctors, whom they had met in prison. Screenshots were then displayed of the online comments written by the witness, who was asked about their context.

The second day was dedicated to completing the Defense Team's questioning. They summarized what they started the day before showing other screenshots and went on to ask about them in depth. The Defense Team suggested that the witness and his cousin had poor memories and tried to challenge the credibility of their having encountered the Accused in prison. The witness, however, confirmed that he saw the Accused there. The Defense Team challenged the witness's credibility and pointed to discrepancies in his testimony. At the end of the session, the linguistic expert explained some matters related to the translation of some Arabic terms.


Day 51 – January 17, 2023

The Prosecutors started the session with a brief interrogation which was limited to a few questions that focused on people who contacted P11 and had some connection to the Syrian embassies. Then the Defense Team took the lead after the Presiding Judge explained to P11 that they have the right to ask the witnesses questions. Counsel Endres started the Defense Team’s questioning by asking about the circumstances of P11’s questioning by the police in the country where he resides. He wanted to know where, when and how the investigation took place and who was present at the time. Endres was also interested in knowing the topics that were raised during the questioning, especially how M.'s name was introduced into the questioning. Endres then asked in-depth questions about that issue. When the Presiding Judge indicated to Endres that some of his questions were unclear and carried more than one meaning, Endres was upset and the witness requested a break.

After a short break, Endres passed the torch to Defense Counsel Bonn who continued to ask about the police questioning. A long discussion took place around whether the transcript was translated for P11 at the end of the police questioning. Bonn then touched upon the issue of the alleged death of P11’s cousin and asked about the two doctors who came to the prison. Bonn asked detailed questions about the slip of paper on which the names of the doctors were written, as well as their place of origin. Bonn concluded his questions by asking whether there was a communication between P11 and P8 about the trial and the nature of that communication.

Counsel Al-Agi showed some of his investigative skills through which he found P11’s account. Al-Agi came up with screenshots - not all of which were included in the case file - of P11’s comments on a publication by Zaman Al-Wasl which revolved around M. The comments showed that P11 had read that article and contacted Anwar Al-Bunni, “who took P11’s statements,” before the police questioning was conducted. Al-Agi demanded P11 to explain how he communicated with Al-Bunni. He asked how it was possible that the witness read the article after being questioned by police, while comments by P11 showed otherwise. P11 explained that all those events had occurred one after another and that he did not chronicle the order in which they happened.

P11 was asked to leave the courtroom briefly so that the Accused could share his thoughts. At the end of his short statement, in which M. stated the obvious, the Presiding Judge summarized that the Accused wanted to say that it was inevitable that P11 had seen M.'s picture before the police questioned P11, as the dates of the comments indicated. When P11 returned to the courtroom, he was shown a screenshot of a post that Faisal Al-Qasim posted on his account, and was followed by questions about it until the Presiding Judge ended the session.

Day 52 – January 19, 2023

The Defense Team resumed their questioning of P11. They showed him screenshots of his comments on a post by Zaman Al-Wasl. They demanded again an explanation that clarifies why P11 said that he had read the post after being questioned by the police, while the comments on the post state otherwise. P11 reiterated his response stating that all events had taken place consecutively in a given time period in which he could not chronologically arrange.

The Presiding Judge then asked the witness to take a break during which the court interpreter, as a linguistic expert, translated screenshots of posts and comments thereon. They included, amongst others, a post title which indicated that a doctor tortured P8’s sick brother. M. offered a naive translation of the title stating that the P8’s brother tortured a patient, but the linguistic expert did not endorse this offer.

After the witness returned from the break, the Defense Counsel requested that the transcript of the police questioning be shown page by page, and asked the witness if his signature appeared on each page, which the witness affirmed. The Defense Counsel then asked about the names of lawyers, activists and journalists, and wanted to know if they meant something to P11 or reminded him of someone, P11 denied. After that, the Defense Team recalled P8's testimony when he told the Court that he forgot everything after his brother's death and that P11 told him what had happened after P8 woke up. The Defense Team wanted to confirm that what P8 said was true. Since P11 did not understand the question, the Presiding Judge explained to the witness that the Defense Team questioned the ability of P8 and P11 to remember and insinuated that both agreed together to make up that story after reading the online reports. P11 confirmed that M. was present during the incident, clarifying that they were not holding a personal grudge against him, and indicating that what they were interested in was establishing the truth regardless of the outcome. In a dramatic scene, M. interrupted the witness, asking him to look him in the eye and say those words. The Presiding Judge asked the witness if the fact that M. was present during the incident was something P11 was certain of, and the latter confirmed that he had seen M. twice there.

The Presiding Judge issued a break so that the Accused could prepare the questions he wanted to ask the witness, but the Accused changed his mind after the break. The Presiding Judge thanked the witness and wished him and his family peace and all the best, recalling the importance of his testimony. P11 said he couldn't find the words to express himself, but thanked everyone. After the witness was dismissed, the Prosecutor asked Al-Agi if he could share his screenshots with the Court and wondered how he had access to P11’s account, as the screenshots indicated that the account was [in a European language]. Al-Agi said his secretary is fluent in the language and assisted in research.

As usual, and after each witness’s testimony, Endres commented saying that Judges should not have used the term “misunderstanding” but rather “false testimony” when referring to contradictions in the testimony. According to Endres, it was clear to him that the witness was influenced by what was spread in the media. Endres did not believe the witness in several matters, including the screenshots. Endres revoked the dramatic scene in which the Accused demanded that the witness “look him in the eye and tell him that he was in prison at the time” - as if he had provided overwhelming evidence of his client's sincerity.

The court interpreter was summoned as a linguistic expert and was shown a sketch drawn by P11. The linguistic expert was asked to clarify what was linguistically problematic for the parties to the case. His opinion was taken in regard to the translation of some of the terms mentioned during the testimony, including the use of “we” and “I.”


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