Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany
Trial Monitoring Summary #52
Hearing Date: August 1 & 3, 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 52nd trial monitoring report details days 87 and 88 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. The first trial day was dedicated to reading out the translation of the Zoom interview of P19 which was recorded by Anwar Al Bunni’s organization. The witness was interviewed in a 1.5-hour meeting online, a summary was created, translated to German and sent to the Court in Frankfurt. Since the summary was insufficient to confront the witness, the recording was translated in full and introduced as evidence. In the interview, the witness was asked who he wanted to testify about, he was asked to provide details about the places where he was detained, when he was beaten or tortured, and what he knew about M. The witness told Al Bunni’s employees several details and confirmed that M. beat patients.
On the next trial day, P19 appeared in court to resume his testimony. At the beginning of the session, the witness denied that he had mandated Anwar Al-Bunni as his lawyer. The witness then explained the discrepancies between his in-court testimony and his statements in an earlier interview. After that, the Judges asked the witness about incidents and people related to his detention. The witness answered thoroughly and the Judges had to sometimes stop him and get him back on track to the original question. The Prosecutors asked a singular question, after which the witness was dismissed. At the end of the session, the court interpreter was questioned as a linguistic expert to clarify something related to the “Mate drink” that the witness mentioned in his statement.
Day 87 – August 1, 2023
On this trial day, a translation from Arabic to German of the Zoom video which recorded the first questioning of the witness P19 by Anwar Al Bunni's Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research (SCLSR) was introduced to the proceedings according to Section 255a [Showing of audio-visual recording of witness examination] and 255 [Record of statements read out] of the German Code of Criminal Procedure. The recording lasted approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. The interview was conducted by a male person and a female person was taking notes. These notes represented a summary of the interview, were translated to German by SCLSR staff, and forwarded to the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt am Main. Since these transcripts were previously deemed insufficient to confront the witness, the recording of the original interview was introduced in full as evidence. Before the linguistic expert started reading out the translation, the Judges informed the parties to the proceedings that Anwar Al Bunni had already been contacted and requested to appear as a witness. While Al Bunni had not yet replied personally, a date for his testimony will be determined soon. The linguistic expert was accompanied by his brother who read out the text since the linguistic expert had a hoarse voice due to illness.
Sequences of the video ranging from three to seven minutes were played, the video stopped, and the linguistic expert read out the German translation of the respective section. The video started by showing the male interviewer who gave technical advice to the witness. He continued by asking introductory questions such as the personal details of the witness. Subsequently, the witness was asked to provide information about the department in Syria where he was detained. The witness elaborated on these questions, the female interviewer had to ask him to slow down, so she could take the notes. The witness was then asked about whom he wanted to give his testimony. P19 explained the time when he was arrested and in which prisons he was detained. He further gave details about the situations in which he was beaten and about the conditions in the prisons. When the interviewer asked when the torture started, P19 provided extensive details and named “Dr. Alaa” and one other doctor. The interviewer wanted to know further details about the circumstances when P19 heard M.’s name, who else tortured in the department, and if the witness was sure that it was M. which P19 confirmed. Upon question, P19 said that he saw M. daily when they were queueing for medication. He further recalled one incident when M. came to the cell door when the detainees asked a minor to be released. The witness further shared his experience about the moment when a corpse was left in the cell overnight. He admitted that he did not see the face of the corpse because it was too dark in the cell. The interviewer asked if the witness saw how M. mistreated patients, which P19 confirmed. P19 added further details about a person who was burned with boiling water during a “torture session”. P19 recalled that doctors were brought to treat him, but they also beat him. Upon question by the interviewer, P19 replied that it was M.
After the witness had shared his experience and what he knew about M., several questions and comments by the interviewer concerned the next steps of the procedure. The interviewer wanted to know whether the witness wanted to remain anonymous, and which documents, such as medical certificates, he should prepare to bring to his next questioning.
For most of the recording, the interviewer was seen in his office. During the last 20 minutes, he first left his office and continued the conversation while standing in the office corridor. While the interview was still ongoing, he put on a Covid-19 mask. The linguistic expert said that due to the mask, this part was difficult to understand. For the last minutes, the interviewer turned off his camera, so only the black and white “SL” logo of the Center was visible on screen. Before the recording was stopped, the witness reiterated certain aspects from his experience and added that M. will be held accountable in this life and the afterlife, and he spoke for all the deceased.
After the linguistic expert finished reading out the last part of the recording, the Judges followed up with several questions to clarify translation discrepancies and misunderstandings due to different or conflated meanings.
Day 88 – August 3, 2023
On this trial day, the Judges resumed questioning P19. At the beginning of the hearing, the Judges wanted to know whether P19 had mandated Anwar Al-Bunni as his lawyer, taking into account the principle of confidentiality between them that would be violated in case the Judges wanted to communicate with Al-Bunni regarding P19. P19 denied and added that the Court could contact Al-Bunni. The Court displayed a picture of a person on screen. P19 confirmed that it was a picture of his deceased cousin who was detained with him. The Judge referred to the interview Al-Bunni’s Center conducted with P19, in which P19 stated that he was beaten on the way to the detention center. The Judge noted that P19 provided different accounts in court, as P19 testified that he was not beaten on the way from his home to the first detention center, but rather on the way between the first and second detention centers. P19 clarified that it was as he explained in court, and what was stated in the interview may have been a misunderstanding caused by the speed at which he was speaking.
Subsequently, the Judges asked about the charges that were brought against P19 during his detention and about the other people detained with him. P19 answered the questions and then started to go off on a tangent. The Presiding Judge stopped him acknowledging that P19 had a lot to tell the Court, nonetheless, P19 should answer the specified questions without addressing other stories. The Judges wanted to know whether P19 witnessed M. beating detainees or wounded people upon coming to the cell. P19 gave an answer that the Judges deemed general. The Presiding Judge stopped P19 and asked him directly if he saw M. beating people. P19 affirmed, adding that M. and people with him beat the wounded. The Judges’ following questions focused on a person with whom P19 shared his experience in prison. P19 said that this person told him that M. was more despicable and filthier than Dr. Sho’ayb and that he was taking his anger out on the detainees even more to demonstrate Sho’ayb that he was performing well.
In their ensuing questions, the Judges inquired about when P19 first heard M.’s full name. They went on to ask for more details about an incident in which P19 saw the corpse of an epileptic patient in the cell whose brother P19 met later. The Judges proceeded to ask about other incidents. P19 recounted a story of a child who was tortured in detention. Moreover, P19 told another story of a person who was tortured during detention, including by the head of the Branch himself. According to P19, this person was tortured, including by scalding him with hot mate-drink water, which was poured on him before beating him. After answering the Prosecutors' only question, P19 expressed his wish that the hearing would not be prolonged, as it was his marriage anniversary and he wanted to spend some time with his family. After thanking him, Presiding Judge Koller dismissed the witness.
After dismissing the witness, Presiding Judge Koller indicated that the court interpreter wanted to comment on the “mate-drink” during the witness’ testimony, but at that moment, Judge Koller preferred carrying on with the testimony and postponed hearing the comment. Later, the Presiding Judge asked the court interpreter to serve as a linguistic expert and asked him to inform the Court of what he wanted to say. The linguistic expert said that it is known in Syria that Alawites drink mate, and his interpretation was that since the soldiers who tortured the person were drinking mate, he could infer that they were Alawites [in addition to the fact that P19 indicated this by changing his dialect]. Defense Counsel Al-Agi asked the linguistic expert if he knows other people who drink mate. The linguistic expert replied that some Germans drink it. Al-Agi asked the expert if this means that the Germans are Alawites based on that inference. The expert denied, explaining that he only referred to the matter because Al-Agi asked him in a previous session to point out whenever the witness mimics the Alawite dialect. The Presiding Judge wanted to know if P19 was being sarcastic when he mimicked the Alawite dialect. The linguistic expert denied and explained that P19 was enunciating the letter “Qaf” [Q]. Judge Koller thanked the linguistic expert and wished him a speedy recovery, as his voice was still hoarse from previous sessions. The expert said that he would try to drink a lot of mate, so that he would recover.