Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany
Trial Monitoring Summary #63
Hearing Date: December 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.
SJAC’s 63rd trial monitoring report details day 106 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. This hearing was dedicated to the questioning of a new witness, P29.
[Note: Due to scheduling issues the Court did not yet finalize the questioning of P28. According to the Judges, P28’s testimony will resume in January 2024. Due to SJAC’s policy not to disclose information from testimonies by witnesses who are not yet dismissed, Trial Report #62 will be withheld until P28’s testimony is completed.]
P29 was asked about his personal background and how he got to know M. According to the witness, they loosely knew each other in Syria because they were both from the Valley of Christians. Their families were close however. P29 got to know M. personally after he had a motorcycle accident and required surgery. M. performed part of the surgery and cared for his well-being in the aftermath. Their friendship deepened after P29 arrived in Germany and M. provided accommodation for him and assisted in daily tasks and starting a life in Germany.
It turned out that P29, like other witnesses, used identical documents for their visa applications. P29 admitted that some details in his CV were false. M. tried to clarify that the templates were available online and anybody could use them. The Judges replied that they were nonetheless false. Moreover, the witness recalled an experience when he was threatened in Syria and testified that he recognized the person in an online documentary. According to the witness, it was the person who allegedly falsely accused M. Lastly, the Judges confronted P29 with a social media post that apparently showed that one of P29’s brothers was a supporter of a pro-regime militia, which the witness denied.
Day 106 – December 14, 2023
Today, a new witness appeared before the Frankfurt court. P29 is a 30-year-old Syrian from Homs living in Germany. After clarifying his personal details, the Judges wanted to know since when he was residing in Germany and what he is currently doing. P29 explained that he arrived in Germany in 2016, has worked for Amazon and as a kitchen assistant, but does not work currently. Originally, his family is from the Valley of Christians [Wadi an-Nasara], where he moved after the security situation in Homs became unstable. In Syria, he graduated with a Baccalaureate [secondary school diploma] through home schooling and enrolled in a university for economics studies. Yet, he did not finish the studies.
The Judges wanted to know how he got to know M. The witness explained that people from the Valley of Christians knew each other generally, but M.’s and his family were closer, they had a friendship. P29 recalled that he did not know M. closely and personally, only from seeing him. He further recalled that this changed when he had a motorcycle accident and needed surgery on his leg in July 2012. P29 recounted that he was brought to Al-Husn Hospital, but his father contacted Alaa M. who was working in Damascus at the time. P29 added that his father organized a transfer, so he was brought to Damascus on the same day. The witness further remembered that M. recommended his former teacher who performed the surgery in the French Hospital in Damascus. The witness also said that M. was present during the surgery and made the stitches after it was performed. According to P29, he spent around one week in the hospital where M. visited him a couple of times. When he was released from the hospital, P29 spent around 7-10 days with relatives in Damascus where M. also visited him every other day. From his father, P29 knew that M. was not working for the French Hospital at the time, but in Al-Mazzeh Hospital instead.
After this period in his life, the witness recounted that he lived in the Valley of Christians. Upon questioning about the situation in the Valley, in particular after the situation in Syria aggravated, the witness said that not much happened, and the security situation was quite stable. However, within the 5 years he had lived there until his departure to Germany, he had experienced one pivotal incident.
The witness recalled that in 2013, he and his aunt were driving towards a crossroads. From afar, they saw that a lot of people were gathering and blocking the road. P29 also saw a body lying on the road. He remembered that his aunt fainted because of fear. Upon questioning, the witness clarified that she did not fully faint, she was not unconscious, but panicked and he had to calm her. He further explained to the Court that he was in fear as well but did not want his aunt to notice. P29 further recalled that upon coming to a halt next to the people blocking the road, they were asked to show their ID cards. Two individuals, both armed with Kalashnikovs, came close to the car and bent down at the driver’s seat to check their papers. He recalled that the second person who checked their ID saw that they were Christians and said, “You will be next, but we have to finish the Alawites first.” P29 also recalled that they heard that a person was killed that night and they assumed that it was the person they saw lying on the ground. After this, P29 and his family barely left the house and limited their movements significantly. The Judges were interested in why the witness recalled this incident. The witness said that he will always remember this moment because he thought they would not survive this day.
After the recollection of this moment, the witness told the Judges that he saw one of the persons again. The witness explained that in 2018, he saw a documentary on Facebook and was instantly sure that it was the person who told him and his aunt that they were next. Upon question, he said that he would never forget how the person looked and explained that in the documentary, the only difference he recognized was that this individual was shaved. In Syria, they all had long beards, P29 added. The Judges wanted to know how he could recognize him, and he recalled that the person had a mark on the face which was peculiar. [To this point, it was unclear who the witness was referring to because he never mentioned a name or a direct connection to the Defendant.] Eventually, it became clear that the witness claimed to have encountered the man who allegedly falsely accused M. in the Al-Jazeera documentary. According to P29, he was threatened by him in 2013 in Syria and then recognized him in the documentary in 2018 when he accused M. of having mistreated patients. The Judges wanted to know what M. told the witness about this person. P29 recalled that M. told him that this man falsely accused him, and the allegations were all wrong. P29 also remembered that M. explained that the person requested M. to work with him, but M. refused, so the threats started. Upon questioning by the judges,the witness said that he did not know of any other conflict M. and the person had allegedly had at work. P29 confirmed the question of whether he told M. about his discovery and the connection to the roadblock. When the Prosecutor asked her questions, she was interested in when the witness told M. about this. The witness recalled that it was instantly after having watched the documentary and added that it must have been on the same or the following day. The Prosecutor loudly wondered why in court M. never mentioned that P29 made this encounter although M. was eager to provide a lot of information about this person. The question remained unanswered, and all parties had the possibility to reflect on it before the next party posed their questions.
This close exchange between M. and the witness was based on a friendship which started after P29’s arrival in Germany. The Judges were interested in how this friendship was formed and developed over time. P29 explained that his father contacted M. when P29 received a visa for Germany. M. helped P29 after his arrival, M. assisted him with daily issues especially due to the language barrier and supported him finding an apartment. P29 also recalled that he stayed with M. for around 2 months before moving into his own apartment. Since then, they have been close friends with very frequent contact. P29 added that M. also supported him to get access to a university and get a place in a language institute. Although P29 did not continue his studies, they supported each other. Due to money transfers from M. to P29’s account, the Judges were interested in whether P29 had received any financial support. P29 denied and explained that this was a common way of transferring money to support families in Syria. P29 and one of his three brothers received money from M. in Euro to their bank accounts. In turn, P29 explained, his father gave the same amount to M.’s family in Syria. Although this process was comprehensible, the Judges remained skeptical about the transfer and asked detailed questions before moving on to the next topic.
Another issue that was extensively discussed was the CV and the motivation letter of P29. Similar to the previous witnesses, the outline and some parts were identical, although P29 denied that he forged them. After several questions, the witness admitted that he did not graduate from the school that was listed on the CV. At the end of the session, M. gave a statement and explained that he helped P29, like he did with other witnesses, and that these templates were openly available online. The Judges acknowledged his explanation but said that the CV was nonetheless false.
According to Judge Rhode, one of the chats that was analyzed by the police revealed that M. sent a screenshot of a post to P29 which described a person with the same name as one of P29’s brothers. This person donated a camera and equipment to a group named Guardians of the Dawn [note: German: Wächter der Morgenröte, Arabic: حراس الفجر Hurraas Al-Fajr: The Guardians of the Dawn are described as a coalition of Christian pro-government militias that are involved in the Syrian Civil War and affiliated with the Air Force Intelligence Directorate]. The Judges wanted to know what P29 knew about it. P29 denied knowing the group, could not recall having received the post by M., and could not imagine that his brother was a supporter. Judge Rhode told him that he did not believe him. Defense Counsel Endres was agitated about this comment and wanted to know if the whole Senate thought this. Judge Rhode clarified that he was speaking about himself only and the Senate will have to discuss the matter in private. Following the comment by Judge Rhode, P29 tried to explain again that he did not know the group and that his brother was not a supporter. He further said that he was certain that if his brother was a supporter, he would know about it.
At the very end of the session, Defense Counsel Endres asked P29 where his brother was, and P29 replied that he was still in Syria. Endres wanted to know if P29 could ask his brother to voluntarily appear in Germany to testify in this trial. Hesitant, the witness wondered why and said that his brother knew M. just like him. Endres did not continue to ask questions or explain the matter further, but it appeared that the witness was confused by the request. After all parties to the proceedings completed their questions, the witness was dismissed. Judge Adlhoch closed the session by informing the Defense Team that they received a confirmation from the Federal Office of Justice that mutual legal assistance in Syria continues to be impossible.