Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany
Trial Monitoring Summary #49
Hearing Date: July 11 & 13, 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 49th trial monitoring report details day 80 and 81 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. A new witness appeared in court to testify. The witness recounted how he and his cousin were arrested in his home and transferred to the Military Security Branch, passing through different locations. The witness described the beatings and torture both were subjected to and the miserable conditions in the detainees' cells. The witness then explained the events that brought him together with the Accused and how, where, and from whom he learned about the Accused’s identity.
On the next trial day, the Defense Team started the session by complaining to the Judges that the witness meandered when answering the questions. The Defense tried to exaggerate the matter, but the Presiding Judge resolved the issue. After that, the court presented a sketch that had been drawn by the witness of the place of detention. The witness showed the locations and explained where the events he told the court took place. Subsequently, the witness recounted details about the incidents he witnessed in the cell and the people he met there. The witness concluded with a brief statement in which he stressed that he was telling the truth, not caring about the regime and its henchmen, because there are hundreds of thousands of detainees and missing persons about whom no one knows anything.
Day 80 – July 11, 2023
On this day, a new witness, P19, appeared to testify in court. P19 informed the Judges at the beginning of the session that he had a problem with his back and thus would not be able to sit for a long time (i.e. no longer than an hour). Presiding Judge Koller reassured him that he would issue several breaks. After several questions about P19’s background, Koller wanted to know where P19 was living when the events in Syria started in 2011 and what his general situation was like. P19 said that he used to live in Rural Homs, in his deceased father’s house, and used to travel back and forth to Homs city. P19 said that the demonstrations encompassed participants from all walks of life, but some people were instigated by the intelligence branches to make people hate demonstrations. Koller wanted to know how P19 was detained. P19 replied that he went home once on the weekend and his cousin visited him there. While sitting in his house, armed men surrounded the house and ended up detaining him and his cousin and taking them to a village where he was interrogated by an investigator who wanted to know whether P19 participated in demonstrations or if he knew people who participated in them. P19 denied participating in demonstrations or knowing other demonstrators. P19 said that the investigator promised to release him if he paid him a bribe, but after some time armed men started beating P19 and his cousin, then took them to the Military Security Branch, where they were beaten upon their arrival and on the way there.
P19 said that they were taken to a cell full of detainees. P19 described in-depth the cell and some of the people in it. P19 told the Judges how he and his cousin were blindfolded before they were taken to another building where they were subjected to beating, Shabh [hung], and interrogation, during which P19 found that the reason for his detention was that one of his relatives reported/denounced him. While P19 was telling his story, Judge Rhode noticed that M. was laughing. Rhode asked him if this was a laughing matter. M. replied that he was just surprised. Judge Rhode asked M. if he was there [when those events occurred], M. affirmed. Nonetheless, M. realized his mistake and explained that it was a misunderstanding on his part, as he thought that the Judge asked him if he was following what was happening in the courtroom, and that was why he affirmed, meaning that he was in the courtroom. M. said he did not mean that he was with the witness at the time. [The expression that the Judge used in his question may be understood as asking about the events that P19 narrated, but also as if the question was “Are you with us?” Hence, the misunderstanding.]
In their ensuing questions, the Judges wanted to focus on the conditions of the detainees in the cell. P19 described the bad conditions in it and some of the detainees he met there, including a detainee who told P19 that he was taken to the Homs Military Hospital and heard someone say that they have to cut the testicles of that detainee. However, a female doctor replied to that person saying “Please, Dr. Alaa, get out. This is not your specialty,” then she operated on the detainee. Later in the cell, that detainee recognized the M. and told P19 that he was the same doctor who was asked by the female doctor in the hospital to get out of the room. That was when M. and Sho’ayb An-Nuqqari came to the cell to treat sick detainees. The Judges asked extensively about that incident and wanted to know when P19 attributed the name “Alaa” to a specific person. P19 replied that he saw M. through a hole in the cell door in another incident and did not know his name at the time. However, only after he saw M.’s pictures that circulated on the Internet, P19 recalled that M. was the doctor who he saw in the second incident and learned that his name was “Alaa” through other detainees. The Judges asked detailed questions about the two incidents, expressing their understanding that P19 had a lot to tell and therefore postponed dealing with the matter until the next session. [Note: It was clear that the witness had a lot to say. He elaborated on the events and mentioned many stories and the names of many people and places. It seemed that the Judges and the parties to the proceedings were overwhelmed by all this information.]
Day 81 – July 13, 2023
At the beginning of this day's session, Defense Counsel Al-Agi asked the court translator to point out whenever the witness uses another dialect during his speech [such as when mimicking another person], noting that the witness did so in the previous session. The Judges then resumed the questioning of witness P19 and started by asking clarifying questions about what P19 stated in the last session. Defense Counsel Endres complained that P19 deviated to other topics when answering certain questions and demanded that the Judges enjoin the witness to answer the questions accurately. Endres claimed that the witness spoke for two minutes, only to be followed by the court interpreter with a cursory translation. Presiding Judge Koller interrupted and said that what Endres described was hyperbole and exaggeration. Koller explained that the Judges did not want to interrupt the witness in order to leave him space for expression and lest he forget information he wanted to say.
After that, a sketch of the place where P19 was detained was displayed in court. P19 explained and showed where each event he previously mentioned occurred. P19 then recounted how he entered the cell with his cousin to find a body lying there. P19 described the strong smell of the body and how they moved it outside the next day. After spending some time in the cell, which reeked badly, a person was brought in who later turned out to be the brother of the deceased, whose body was in the cell. P19 described how that person shouted, cried, and how he laid on the ground kissing the place where his brother’s body was. The person then told people, including P19, about his epileptic brother and how he died. The Judges followed with extensive questions about that incident and about events and people mentioned by former witnesses during their in-court testimony. [Note: When recounting his testimony, the witness spoke so quickly that the Judge was unable to keep up with him while typing. P19 was instructed not to start a subsequent sentence until it was indicated to him that the previous sentence was done.]
Finally, P19 told the story of a person who was detained with him, the method Shabh [hanging] was applied to him, and his injuries. P19 said that after his release, he met a relative of that detainee who told P19 that that detainee died under torture in Homs Military Hospital after he was transferred there. The Judges concluded by asking about specific detainees described by former witnesses in previous sessions. At the end of the session, P19 stated that he was telling the truth that he witnessed himself dictated by his conscience and duty. He added that he was not afraid of anything when he was detained, just as he is afraid of nothing now, except for his fear for his family, because he knows that the criminal regime has many lackeys of many nationalities. He added that he would tell everything he knew about any criminal and that he would like to convey the truth because there are hundreds of missing persons about whom nothing is known, and their families do not know their fate. Presiding Judge Koller thanked the witness and adjourned the hearing.
Among the five judges, there is a judge who is assigned to transcribe the testimony of the witnesses.