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Inside the Alaa M. Trial #46: The Hermeneutics of Suspicion

Inside the Alaa M. Trial #46: The Hermeneutics of Suspicion

Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #46

Hearing Dates: June 6, 2023

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 46th trial monitoring report details day 76 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. This week’s hearing was dedicated to the questioning of P18. Following several discrepancies, the Accused and one Defense Counsel were admonished by the Presiding Judge to remain professional and refrain from making dismissive gestures. The Court acknowledged the immense pressure the witness had to endure but reminded him not to deliberately hold back information. Yet, the witness was unable to recall or express most of the previously given details during the police questioning. He nonetheless identified several individuals in photographs, including M.  

[NOTE: SJAC impartially reports on the content of the proceedings and usually gives the full account of each witness as long as it is respecting the integrity of the trial. Several witnesses to this trial have received threats and a recent investigation conducted by SJAC has intensified the concern about witness intimidation by the Syrian regime. SJAC therefore decided not to disclose the full testimony in order to protect the witness and his relatives.]

After the witness was dismissed, the Accused and Counsel Endres declared their wish not to be informed about summoning information regarding future witnesses to avoid any suspicion on them. The Defense Team did not stand united behind this claim, Counsel Bonn disagreed. The Judges rejected the proposal based on the principle of a fair trial.


Day 76 – June 6, 2023   

On this trial day, the Judges resumed the questioning of P18. They started the questioning without mentioning the witness intimidation brought forward in the previous session. Instead, they engaged in questions regarding his personal experience with M. Yet, after the first hour, Presiding Judge Koller interrupted the questioning. He requested all parties, mainly referring to Defense Counsel Endres and the Accused, to act professionally and refrain from using expressive gestures such as shaking their heads. Judge Koller acknowledged that the witness was under immense pressure and apologized to him that certain statements are obviously being judged by the parties to the proceedings. Judge Koller asked if P18 received any further information from Syria which the witness denied.

The Court, however, recognized that the - unnecessary - gestures predominantly followed discrepancies with P18’s prior statements given during the police questioning. Repeatedly, the witness said that he did not recall a certain event before he was confronted with a statement from the police transcript. Even after the confrontation, the witness remained reluctant to reiterate what he previously stated with the same determination. [Note from the monitor: the witness appeared timid, introverted, and reserved. He hesitated before every answer, took long thinking breaks, and talked with a low voice.] The Court nonetheless reminded the witness that it was acceptable if he did not recall a certain event or detail, but if he was deliberately holding back certain information, it would be problematic and delay the entire procedure.

In his testimony, the witness did not give a lot of detail overall. He was asked about how he met M., how much direct contact they had during their employment, how M. behaved and looked. Discrepancies arose frequently with statements from the police transcript. To several crucial questions, the witness did not recall details or testified that he did not personally witness the event in question, that it was hearsay. When he was shown photographs to identify a person he supposedly knew well, in one out of four, the witness carefully stated that it could be the person in question. He further identified all three persons, including M., from a photo array that was shown to all witnesses. Upon questioning, the witness did not confirm that issues due to fasting or smoking rules during Ramadan were likely or that he knew of any conflict between M. and other doctors. Overall, it became clear that the witness downplayed all statements that were related to a strong position against the Syrian government, including all doctors he named, as well as the mistreatment of patients. He also said he does not know that M. and a group of pro-government doctors were sent to external missions.  

After the witness was dismissed, Defense Counsel Endres wanted to announce a declaration according to Section 257 of the German Code of Criminal Procedure that provides that after each taking of evidence, the Accused may make use of his right to give a statement. Defense Counsel Endres declared that he is "sick of being suspected of influencing witnesses" and that he wishes to not receive the witness summons information in the future, especially for those who are under the witness protection program so no one could accuse him any further. [Only the parties to the proceedings and the Judges have advance information as to which witnesses will be testifying.] M. agreed and explained that he believes it would be better if they did not know. At the same time, M. expressed his concern that every witness would simply bring forward that he/she is intimidated. Counsel Endres added that the Court should consider the intimidation as a false defense to "explain all the discrepancies." Defense Counsel Bonn did not agree with the rest of the Defense Team and wishes to be informed of scheduling information. Presiding Judge Koller rejected the proposal and assured that all parties to the proceedings will be informed to comply with the principle of a fair trial and adjourned the session.