Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany
Trial Monitoring Summary #57
Hearing Date: October 10 & 12, 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 57th trial monitoring report details days 95 and 96 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. On the first trial day, the questioning of P25 was completed. When the Judges showed him a sketch that he supposedly drew during police questioning, the witness denied having drawn it. The Judges further asked him about the corpses in the Homs Military Hospital and from which locations they were transported. A video clip supposedly taken inside the hospital was then displayed in court and the witness was questioned about it. After that, the witness was asked about two of his colleagues, to which extent he communicated with them, and which incidents that occurred in the hospital and pertained to the case against the Accused he heard from them. The session concluded with questioning by the Defense Team.
On the following trial day, Mr. Kesel, an officer at the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), appeared in court to elaborate on the questioning he conducted with P25. Mr. Kesel explained the circumstances of the questioning and answered questions by the Judges and the Defense Team, which revolved mainly around comparing the statements of P25 in the police questioning against his testimony in court. Mr. Kesel confirmed that P25 was the one who drew the sketch during questioning and described him as a reserved person.
Day 95 – October 10, 2023
On this day, the questioning of P25 resumed. He entered the courtroom accompanied by his lawyer, in contrast to his first day of testimony. [Note: The witness testified in German. He often paused and took a moment to think before answering questions. Most of his answers were brief.] The Judges started the session by asking P25 to describe the Homs Military Hospital building and some of its departments, particularly the emergency department. P25 recalled some details and forgot others. Presiding Judge Koller acknowledged that a long time had passed since those events took place but asked P25 to try to recall as much as possible.
After that, a satellite image, presumably of the Homs Military Hospital, was displayed in court. Upon questioning, P25 confirmed that the image was shown to him during the police questioning and that the labels on it were his handwriting. The Judges went on to display a sketch that P25 supposedly drew during the police questioning. After P25 explained the sketch, the Judges asked him who had drawn it. P25 took a moment to reflect and remained silent. The Judges asked him if he drew it himself or someone else based on his instructions. P25 reiterated that the handwriting, but not the drawing, was his. When the Judges asked him who might have drawn it, P25 responded that it could be the police. Presiding Judge Koller said that he understands if P25 was unable to recall something that occurred many years ago, but it has been only around two years since the police questioned P25.
Subsequently, P25 was asked about the corpses and the refrigerator trucks in Homs Military Hospital. P25 replied that his colleagues told him about both. When the Judges asked him about the names of his colleagues, P25 could only recall one name. The Judges further wanted to know where the corpses came from. P25 enumerated names of neighborhoods in Homs and areas close by. When asked by the Judges whether corpses were transported to the hospital from a certain neighborhood in Homs, P25 responded that he does not know. After that, two video clips supposedly showing footage filmed inside Homs Military Hospital were displayed in court. Referring to one of the buildings that appeared in the video, P25 suggested that it was likely the prison. The Judges shifted the questioning to another topic and wanted to know details about P25’s communication with P15 and another person. P25 said that it was not proper communication, but rather limited to social media such as Facebook. In addition, P25 confirmed that he had not communicated with them during past years. The Judges wondered whether P25 communicated with human rights activists, which P25 confirmed. When the judges inquired whether Anwar Al-Bunni was one of them, P25 denied. The Judges then wanted to know when P25 first heard about the case against M. and how he learned about it. P25 responded that his colleagues, Arab doctors working with him, informed him about the matter.
In the ensuing questioning, the Judges wanted to know where P25 headed after leaving Homs Military Hospital until leaving Syria. P25 explained that after leaving Homs Military Hospital, he worked in a civilian hospital until it was destroyed. The Judges expressed their interest in the interrogation of P25 by the Syrian Intelligence Services and asked about its circumstances and reasons. P25 said he was allowed to return home on the same day after the interrogation by the Intelligence Services. He added that he no longer “trusted” to stay in Syria, thus left with his family. The Judges inquired what he meant by “trusted.” P25 explained that he was concerned that the Intelligence Services would arrest him as they did with his colleagues. After that, the Judges wanted to know what charges the Intelligence Services brought against him. P25 replied that he was accused of treating defected soldiers as well as other charges pertaining to the demonstrations in Homs. The Judges asked whether it was a mere accusation or if he indeed treated individuals from the regime’s opposition. P25 replied that he treated civilians, not soldiers. The Judge asked if he meant demonstrators, which P25 confirmed, reiterating that they were civilian demonstrators. Presiding Judge Koller responded that he was not accusing P25 when he asked about the matter, as all people have the right to treatment whether civilians or otherwise, .
The Judges concluded their questioning by asking about a colleague of P25’s at Homs Military Hospital. They wanted to know if P25 heard about a quarrel between M. and that person, which P25 denied. The Judges asked if that person was religious. P25 responded that that person was not very religious. When the Judges asked whether that person prayed and fasted during Ramadan, P25 confirmed. The Judges asked how that person interacted with others, for example, if he ordered others to do certain things or if P25 heard from someone about the same, P25 denied. The Judges wondered whether P25 knew if that person helped the opposition in his capacity as a doctor. P25 denied and added that he knew that many of that person’s relatives and friends disappeared or died.
After a short break, it was the Defense Team's turn to pose questions. Defense Counsel Bonn recalled that according to the police questioning transcript, P25 did not receive assistance from an interpreter. Bonn wondered whether this was his personal wish, which P25 confirmed. Bonn further asked about the prison building, P25’s documents, and how often he met with M. Bonn then asked about someone who was supposedly a former colleague of P25 - and sought M.’s assistance to pronounce the name in court - noting that P25 stated in the questioning transcript that he heard from two colleagues that this person was the one who operated on a patient without anesthesia. P25 said he did not remember. Defense Counsel Al-Agi attempted to ask a few questions, most of which were rejected and did not make it to P25 because the Judges considered them to be repetitions of previously answered questions.
The Accused raised several questions related to two points: one of them centered around the question of who had the responsibility for determining who had to go to prison, whereas the other point was about who conducted the ward rounds and patients’ examinations. While explaining about examining the cuffed patients, P25 said that he could hear their screams because their room was next to the doctors' room. The Presiding Judge interrupted the witness and asked him to provide more details. P25 said that the screaming was due to the mistreatment of patients, therefore, he went to the room and found the guard beating a patient with an object. P25 asked the guard to stop and told him that what he was doing was being done in other departments [referring to intelligence branches] but this place was designated for treatment. Koller wondered whether the guard stopped beating. P25 denied and said that the guard did not care. P25 added that the next day, he went to complain to the chief resident who told P25 not to speak about the matter.
As the questions came to an end, Presiding Judge Koller thanked the witness, wished him and his family well in Syria, and then adjourned the session.
Day 96 – October 12, 2023
On this day, Mr. Kesel, an investigator at the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), appeared in court and was asked to elaborate on the questioning he conducted with P25. Initially, Presiding Judge Koller wanted to know how the BKA found the witness. P25 said that the Accused received two messages on a phone number, one of which mentioned Homs Military Hospital, and there was a list of doctors’ names, including P25. Mr. Kesel explained that he contacted P25 and asked him to provide a statement regarding the case. When he looked at the case file of the asylum application submitted by P25 to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), he found a summary of P25’s professional history and the hospitals between which he switched, but their names were not included in the file.
After that, the Judges wanted to know the circumstances of the questioning generally and who was present. Mr. Kesel said that the questioning took place in the police office in the presence of his colleague as well as the witness, and that it lasted five and a half hours. Mr. Kesel added that P25's German was good and that P25 said he did not need an interpreter. Following up on that issue, the Judges wanted to know whether P25 could not understand something or asked clarifying questions. Mr. Kesel said that P25 understood him and his colleague and noted that P25 used his mobile phone to translate some terms that he did not understand. In response to the Judges' questions, Mr. Kesel explained that P25 was not tired and was offered sweets and water. The BKA officer recalled that P25 read the questioning transcript himself - because his German was good - before he signed it. The Judges carried on asking about details that P25 mentioned in his statements during the police questioning and compared them with his in-court testimony. The Judges referred to the police questioning transcript in which P25 mentioned the name of a doctor who allegedly operated on a patient without anesthesia, as told by his two colleagues at the time. The Judges pointed out that contrary to what was noted in the transcript, P25 testified in court that he did not say that. The BKA officer responded that if it was noted in the transcript, P25 probably said it, indicating that P25 read the transcript and corrected some errors. The Judges referred to another place in the transcript where P25 listed the names of the hospitals in which he worked. They asked about a military hospital mentioned after Homs Military Hospital that P25 did not mention in his testimony before the court. Mr. Kesel did not remember talking about that hospital and confused it with another hospital.
The Judges went on to inquire about other incidents related to mistreatment in Homs Military Hospital, particularly those involving the Accused as mentioned by P25 in his statement to the police. Mr. Kesel explained that P25 stated that he did not witness M. mistreating patients but only heard about it.
Subsequently, a sketch that P25 supposedly drew during police questioning was displayed, and the Judges asked whether P25, or someone else, drew it. The BKA officer replied that P25 drew it himself after having been given a pen and paper.
Defense Counsel Bonn concluded the session with a few questions by the Defense Team, including whether the witness expressed concern about his family in Syria during the police questioning. Mr. Kesel denied, adding that P25 was reserved. Bonn pointed out that P25 named doctors who allegedly committed abuses and wanted to know if Mr. Kesel could speculate why. Mr. Kesel replied that this would be mere conjecture. At the end of the session, Presiding Judge Koller thanked the BKA officer for preparing well and then adjourned the session.