Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany
Trial Monitoring Summary #58
Hearing Date: October 17 & 19, 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 58th trial monitoring report details days 97 and 98 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. The first trial day of this week was dedicated to reading out the translations of documents that the Defense Team received from a lawyer in Syria on behalf of M. His father filed a complaint against P4 after learning about the accusations against M. The prosecutor in Syria allegedly forwarded the documents to M.’s father. They detailed an alleged conviction of P4 in Syria, his requests for early release, a certificate of good conduct and requests for confirmation certificates. Moreover, M. was confronted with evidence that called a previous testimony in question. Whether he lied, erred, or a misunderstanding occurred could not be determined.
On the second day, the Court heard the translation of the 'Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic' to the United Nations General Assembly from November 23, 2011, detailing the situation in Syria at the time. The Court further informed the parties to the proceedings that two individuals are planned to be summoned but they had difficulties with addresses and dates. At last, the Defense suggested clarifying the issue that was left unresolved on the previous day. M. reiterated the same explanation, but a language-based misunderstanding could not be ruled out.
Day 97 – October 17, 2023
Trial day 97 was dedicated to reading out the translations of documents that the Defense submitted. The Judges also aimed at clarifying issues related to the documents by questioning M. All documents concerned the witness P4.
In the beginning, the Judges asked M. how exactly he obtained the documents. M. explained that P4 testified against him in the proceedings, therefore, M.'s father wanted to investigate who that person was. According to M., his father found out that P4 was not present in Syria but in an EU member state. M.’s father subsequently filed a complaint against P4 in Syria in August 2022. The prosecutor in Syria started investigating the substance of the complaint and M.'s father received the documents. M. also recalled that his father had already filed complaints against two other former colleagues, one of them being another witness to the proceedings, P15. However, M. explained, the prosecutor had security concerns and M.’s father was unable to obtain any documents related to these two individuals. M. further mentioned P8, yet P8 had testified that he was detained in the Military Intelligence as opposed to the Military Hospital, so M.’s father could not obtain information related to him. The complaint was for defamation based on the argument that P4 accused M. of torturing P4 in 2012 at the Military Hospital, but M. claimed that this was not possible as M. was not present in Homs in 2012 [note: defamation is briefly defined as the assertion or dissemination of a fact about another person which is suited to degrading that person or negatively affecting public opinion about that person].
The Defense received the documents through a lawyer from Syria and translated them into German, both the original and the German version were added to the files. The linguistic expert was requested to double-check the German translation for possible errors and correct them. He then read out the results in court.
The translated documents were related to an alleged arrest and conviction of P4. According to the documents, he was arrested in 2009 and sentenced to four years imprisonment for theft of a vehicle. During the read out, the linguistic expert made several mistakes about dates which the Judges noticed by comparing the German documents in the files. Moreover, the expert wrongly pronounced names which resulted in confusion among the parties to the proceedings. German spectators were unable to follow the mistakes because only the Arabic version of the documents was displayed, the German translation was only available to the parties [the following information is therefore incomplete where the mistakes could not be clarified]. The following documents were inspected and read out:
1) A document issued by the Syrian Ministry of Interior, Department of Immigration, detailing the total number of journeys of P4 in the years 2003 and 2004, all to a neighboring country (document issued: October 25, 2020)
2) A request by the detainee P4 to be issued of a confirmation certificate about his time in detention (document date: July 1, 2012), (document issued: October 17, 2022, by the head of the Central Prison Homs Khaled Ahmad Kakhi)
3) A request by P4 to be issued a certificate about his time in detention (document date: unclear) (document issued: July 17, 2022)
4) A request by the detainee P4 to the president of the Criminal Court Homs to credit a prior detention to the four-year sentence (document date: September 22, year unclear 2010 or 2012); response by the prosecutor to reject the request (document date: November 1, 2012) (document issued: July 17, 2022)
5) A request by the detainee P4 for early release after 3/4 of his sentence based on good conduct (document date: 2000; the year was confirmed by the linguistic expert upon question due to an apparent mistake)
6) A request for injunctive relief by P4 to the Criminal Court (related to the right of appeal, but with unclear content); (document date: July 30, 2012)
7) A certificate of good behavior for P4, issued by the Syrian Ministry of Interior, Police Headquarters, Department of Prison Homs (document date: November 5, 2012). The documents detailed that P4 was arrested and remained in custody since May 4, 2009, his release is scheduled for May 4, 2013, 3/4 of his sentence were completed on May 4, 2012: no entries of crimes, disciplinary actions, damages to property, or any other negative orders. The prosecutor recommends rejecting the request for early release (document issued: July 7, 2022, by the Ministry of Justice)
8) A document detailing the length of detention exceeding 3/4 of P4’s sentence (3 years, 7 months, 26 days) at the time of issuance (document date: December 31, 2012, by the Ministry of Justice)
After the linguistic expert read out the content and answered the questions, he was dismissed. The Judges continued by displaying several screenshots of WhatsApp chats obtained from M.’s mobile phone. The Judges explained that their content has already been translated but the dates of the messages are relevant and invite further questioning. The screenshots showed conversations between M. and his father. M. forwarded articles, posts, and links related to his case which he predominantly derived from the Zaman Al-Wasl publication. The screenshots revealed that this data was sent in May 2020. Judge Rhode confronted M. with his previous testimony where he explained that he did not learn about this information before June 2020. M. rejected that he had been lying. He explained that he did mention the fact that he learned about the Zaman Al-Wasl reports in April, and further said that the reports by Der Spiegel as well as Al-Jazeera followed in May. Judge Rhode told M. that they noted the month of June and no further discussion is necessary about this fact. M. insisted that he surely testified that he learned about them in April and added that it must have been on the 3rd or 4th day of the trial. M concluded that this must be a misunderstanding. Judge Rhode assumed that M. erred in his testimony then and informed him that the Court acknowledges his testimony today. Presiding Judge Koller added that misunderstandings may certainly happen, but they will double-check this fact. He then adjourned the session.
Day 98 – October 19, 2023
In today's session, the Court heard the translation of the 'Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic' to the United Nations General Assembly from November 23, 2011, detailing the situation in Syria at the time. The linguistic expert Ms. Kühn read out the translation from English to German.
After Ms. Kühn was dismissed, the Judges explained that they had tried to summon an individual as a witness for October 31, 2023. However, the summon was returned to the sender. Although the Court was aware of two addresses, it has been unable to reach the person thus far. The Judges asked the parties to the proceedings if they had any further details such as a mobile phone number. M. declared that he visited this person in Eastern Germany and named an address. The Judges explained that they had used the official address of the civil register and would try to reach him with urgent action by the police. M. further suggested trying the address of the person's brother.
The Judges also informed the parties to the proceedings that they had summoned another person to appear as a witness. Yet, the Court gave short notice and since the witness lives in a different state in Germany where another official holidays schedule applies, the person had already planned his vacation. The Judges will announce the date for his appearance later.
Before the end of the session, the Defense Team asked to give two suggestions to the Court:
1) A document allegedly proving the conviction of P4 was submitted to the investigative judge, yet it was not part of the set of documents read out in the previous session. The Defense suggested introducing the document to the main hearing as well [see trial day 97].
2) In the previous session, WhatsApp chats were displayed. According to the conversations and data forwarded, M. learned about allegations against him and potential witnesses to the case in May . Yet, in court he testified that it was in June , as noted by the Judges. In order to find out whether it may have been a misunderstanding, the Defense suggested confronting M. with the entire section from the session in which he presumably testified about this aspect.
Well prepared, Judge Rhode directly confronted M. with the respective section from trial day 43 on November 10, 2022. M. reiterated at which moment he recalled knowing which detail about the accusations and witness names. He repeated that it must have been a misunderstanding. M. mostly spoke in German in court although he is always accompanied by an interpreter provided by the Court. The Judges suggested that he make use of the interpreter when it concerned important facts, he might have conflated "I knew" [German: Ich wusste] and "I learned about" [German: Ich habe erfahren] which have significantly different meanings in this context.