Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany
Trial Monitoring Summary #47
Hearing Date: June 13 & 14, 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.
[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.]
SJAC’s 47th trial monitoring report details day 77 and 78 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. The first trial day this week was dedicated to resuming the questioning of witness P18. The Judges started the session by asking about some doctors and wanted the witness to tell the Court what he knew about them. The Judges then asked about the hospital's prison, the mistreatment that took place there and who committed it. The witness raised suspicion among some of the parties to the proceedings after declaring that he communicated with a former witness but confirmed that neither talked about the content of the case at all. In the courtroom, the Judges showed a satellite image of Homs Military Hospital and video footage inside and asked the witness to explain the content and then draw a sketch of the emergency department in the hospital.
Following a few questions by the Judges, the Prosecutors and Plaintiffs' Counsel stated that they did not have any questions. Therefore, the Defense Team started its questioning which revolved initially around the police questioning of the witness. Subsequently a document, that the witness provided, was presented in court and the linguistic expert was assigned to translate it. When asked by a Defense Counsel if he knew anyone among the spectators in the public gallery, the witness denied. After that, the Accused questioned the witness for a relatively long time. The Defense Counsel asked the witness about certain documents, but the Presiding Judge allowed the witness to refuse to answer, referring to what the German law stipulates. After all the questions were finished, the Presiding Judge declared the witness's questioning was completed.
Day 77 – June 13, 2023
On this day of the trial, the Judges resumed the questioning of P18. They started by mentioning the names of certain doctors and asked P18 to tell the Court what he knew about them. The Judges wanted to know whether P18 discussed the case and the charges against M. with some of these doctors. The Judges took their time when asking about two specific doctors, one of whom testified in court. After extensive questions about the other doctor, they wanted to know whether that doctor used to exhort his colleagues to adhere to certain religious teachings. The witness confirmed, explaining that this doctor was tactful when talking about such or other issues. P18 added that this doctor used to advise his colleagues in a simple, kind manner. The Judges went on to ask about an incident in which the Accused claimed to be scolded by that person because he was smoking during the month of Ramadan. The Judges wondered whether this doctor used to do that with his “non-Sunni” colleagues. P18 denied knowing about such an incident and also denied that this doctor would behave like that with other doctors or nurses.
In the ensuing questions, the Judges then asked about the staff in the hospital prison and the doctors who were authorized to enter the prison in case a consultation was requested from their department. P18 enumerated the names of some doctors. After that the Judges inquired about which methods of mistreatment in the hospital prison P18 heard about, including methods of torture. P18 heard that such practices in the hospital prison were limited to a military doctor and the prison staff. P18 heard about cases of death in the prison and that some civilian doctors tortured patients but in the hospital departments, not in the prison. After that, the Judges moved to another topic and proceeded to ask about handing over the dead bodies and the details pertaining to their burial. P18 heard that the death certificates stated that the death was natural. Moreover, P10 recounted which prerequisites for the burial he heard about.
After the break, the witness’s Counsel said that P18 would like to give a statement and the Presiding Judge allowed it. P18 indicated that the Judge asked him about his contact with P15 whose name was mentioned in the previous session. P18 stated that he contacted P15 after the previous session to check on him, nonetheless, they did not discuss any issue related to the case. P18 consulted with his Counsel during the break, and she recommended that he should inform the Court. The Judges seemed upset and the Presiding Judge said that he prefers that the witnesses do not communicate with each other during the taking of evidence, having said that, P18 made the right decision by informing the Court. Defense Counsel Endres was agitated and said he wanted to know the content of their communication and might submit a request to cross-examine the other party as well. The Judges asked in depth about that communication and wanted to know when it occurred, what was discussed and the reason for it. P18 said that his purpose was to check on his colleague, ask and find out about his family’s situation following his in-court testimony, reaffirming that they did not talk about the case. After the Judges asked extensively about that communication, they decided to proceed with their questioning. The Defense Team challenged P18's justifications insinuating that he was not telling the truth. Prosecutor Zabeck demanded that the possibility of what the witness stated be taken into account.
Finally, the Judges presented in court a satellite image said to be of the Homs Military Hospital and asked P18 to explain the sections of the hospital. After that they asked him to draw a sketch of the emergency department, on which P18 indicated the rooms and sections. The Judges concluded the session by showing three video clips that were filmed inside the hospital. P18 explained what he was able to identify in them.
Day 78 – June 15, 2023
This trial day was dedicated to completing the questioning of P18. Before proceeding with the questions, the Presiding Judge distributed a document that P18 provided to the Court, which indicated P18’s transfer from Homs Military Hospital. The Judges then resumed their questioning about the Emergency Department and the detainees' room in the General Surgery Department. The Judges wanted to know who had access to the room and on what basis they were selected. The Judges recalled P18 stating previously that M. was ostentatious and bragged about what he had done. They wanted to know what reason P18 would deduce as to why the Accused did that. P18 believed that M. bragged about what he did to ingratiate himself to the group of doctors who tortured the patients. The Judges’ following questions focused on the incident in which M. allegedly burned a patient's genital area. The Judges concluded their questioning by asking what P18 heard in the media about the case against the Accused and whether he contacted human rights or media organizations regarding the matter.
Because the Prosecutors and the Plaintiffs Counsel did not have any questions for the witness, the Presiding Judge gave the Defense Team the opportunity to ask their questions. Counsel Endres started by asking about the police questioning of the witness and wanted to know the details of it and how the police contacted him. The witness stated that he was surprised when the police contacted him, and that he did not know yet how they reached him and learned that he worked in Homs Military Hospital. Endres then raised a few questions which he had to retract one by one after the Judges indicated that they had already been asked and answered.
After a short break and before the witness returned, the Court interpreter appeared on the witness stand as a linguistic expert. The Judges displayed a document that P18 submitted earlier to the Court and stated that P18 was transferred from Homs Military Hospital. [The Presiding Judge verified before the break that the document did not contain information that, if disclosed, would be detrimental to the witness. P18 acknowledged that his personal information in the document was limited to his name]. After the linguistic expert translated the document orally to the parties to the court, the Accused disagreed with the linguistic expert in his translation of a two-letter- acronym, each of them explained his opinion.
After P18 entered the courtroom, Defense Counsel Endres resumed his questions about the threats the witness received. Endres wanted to know some details of the communication that followed the threats. Subsequently, Endres asked the witness to turn to the audience behind him and asked him if he knew any of the spectators. P18 turned and scrutinized, then denied knowing any of them. Endres followed his question with a futile one, asking if P18 knew the Trial Monitor. P18 denied again, as he already denied knowing anyone in the audience. Defense Counsel Al-Agi took the lead and raised questions about the document that was displayed in court, P18’s work routine at Homs Military Hospital and the doctors' clothes there. Like his colleague Endres, he regurgitated questions that the Presiding Judge did not allow because they had already been raised and answered. Al-Agi asked the witness if he had watched the Al-Jazeera documentary about the Accused, P18 denied. M. then proceeded to interrogate P18 and raised many questions about P18's personal Facebook account, implying that P18 might have read something that P15 had published or shared. P18 denied all of that and the Accused drew a blank.
Endres referred to the police questioning transcript in which documents, that P18 provided to the police, were mentioned. Endres asked about a specific document. P18 indicated that it was a personal question and wondered whether he was obliged to answer. The Presiding Judge interrupted the session and asked the witness' Counsel to approach the Judges' bench. After a consultation between them, the Presiding Judge announced a short break to discuss the matter with his fellow judges, after which he returned to inform the witness of his right to not answer the question if it would subject him or one of their relatives to the risk of being persecuted, referring to Section 55 of the German Code of Criminal Procedure. After the questions were finished, Presiding Judge Koller announced the end of questioning the witness. He dismissed P18 after thanking him and wishing him and his family all the best.