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Inside the Alaa M. Trial #64: Al-Bunni: Second Act

Inside the Alaa M. Trial #64: Al-Bunni: Second Act

Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #64

Hearing Date: December 19 & 21, 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 64th trial monitoring report details days 107 and 108 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany.  The first session was dedicated to questioning Anwar Al-Bunni for the second time during the trial. The questions revolved around the details of the interview that Al-Bunni conducted with P8. There was confusion among the parties to the proceedings because of the interview transcript that Al-Bunni submitted to the Court and the methodology applied to create it. Al-Bunni claimed that all the errors included in the transcript are merely typos. However, he stressed, at the same time, that the presence of errors in the text of the testimony was impossible. The Judges and Defense Team questioned the standards applied in conducting the interview and issuing its transcript.

The second day's short session was dedicated to the translation of the transcript of the interview that Anwar Al-Bunni conducted with P8. The translation text was read out by the court interpreter who appeared as a linguistic expert. The reading included a few minor questions from the parties, which were clarified by the linguistic expert.


Day 107 – December 19, 2023

On this day, Anwar Al-Bunni, head of the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research (SCLSR), appeared before the Court as a witness for the second time [Day 1 of his testimony is recorded in TR54]. He was questioned about an interview he conducted with P8. Confused, Al-Bunni thought that he conducted the interview with P11 rather than P8. After the interview transcript was displayed on the screens, Al-Bunni recalled that he spoke with P11 who connected him to P8 in order to interview P8. The Judges wanted to know if Al-Bunni interviewed P11 as well which Al-Bunni denied. The Judges wondered whether someone other than Al-Bunni and P8 had participated in the interview, Al-Bunni again denied. The Judges explained that their question stemmed from the interview’s transcript where it was noted that an assistant was present during the interview and presented herself as working with Al-Bunni’s Center. Al-Bunni apologized for the confusion caused by the transcript and explained that this was merely a “cliché” that was added to all the testimonies later, and it does not necessarily mean that this assistance was present during the interviews.

As Al-Bunni went on to answer their questions, the Judges seemed frustrated, since he kept answering in general, despite their questions being about P8’s case in particular. Similar to Al-Bunni’s first hearing, today the Judges were likewise upset with this way of replying. Just like the Judges, the court interpreter was irritated with Al-Bunni, who repeatedly interrupted the interpretation of the questions and proceeded with answering questions he misunderstood, only to be provided thereupon with the correct translation by the court interpreter.

The Judges were perplexed by the methodology used to create the interview’s transcript. After a back-and-forth, it was found to have been conducted in three steps: Firstly, Al-Bunni took hand-written notes during the interview, and secondly, transcribed them on the computer. Lastly, the information gathered during the interview was filled in a template one or two years later. This last step was part of a project in his center to transcribe the texts of all the interviews into the templates. Before destroying the hand-written notes, Al-Bunni continued, each interviewer proofread their notes with the final template of the interview’s transcript.

Referring to P8’s interview transcript, the Judges pointed out that the interview lasted from 2:30PM to 4:00PM. Al-Bunni explained that this was also a mere “cliché” used in the template, since he noted when the interview started but estimated when it ended. Following further questioning by the Judges, it became clear that the starting time was also an estimate, as Al-Bunni asserted that the interview began at noon and thus, he estimated that it must have started around 2PM, assuring the Judges that his center would not note, for example, that the interview started in the morning if it did at noon. [Note: Al-Bunni seems to mean that he did not deviate too much when estimating the time.]

The Judges extensively questioned Al-Bunni about the content of the interview, the events narrated therein, and which details he recalled. While recounting what he remembered, Al-Bunni mentioned a specific detail about P8’s deceased brother. The Judges asked how Al-Bunni knew that information and whether P8 had mentioned it during the interview. Al-Bunni confirmed that P8 told him this, otherwise, how would he have learned about it, Al-Bunni wondered. The Judges explained that their query was based on the fact that this information was not mentioned in the transcript. It is probable, Al-Bunni suggested, that he attributed this information to P8’s deceased brother because, in his mind, he linked that information to epilepsy patients in general. Another option, according to Al-Bunni, would be that P8 mentioned this detail but Al-Bunni did not note it down.

Since the Prosecutor and the Plaintiff’s Counsel did not raise any questions, it was the Defense Team's turn. Defense Counsel Endres took the lead and pointed out that the witness's date of birth was noted in the transcript followed by his age in parentheses. However, Endres continued, the age mentioned indicates that the age was calculated in 2023, not in 2020. [Note: To clarify the issue with an example, we will assume that the date of birth was noted in the transcript as follows: “1/1/2000 (23 [years old]).” Endres argued that the age was calculated in 2023, and had it been calculated in 2020, it would have been noted as: “1/1/2000 (20 [years old]).”] Endres wondered curiously whether the age was noted down after P8 had testified in court. Al-Bunni explained that he conducted the interview in 2020 and it was filled in the template one or two years later. Therefore, Al-Bunni said, the possibility that the template was filled out in 2023 is still on the table. In terms of the wrong calculation of the age, Al-Bunni said it could just be a typo.

Presiding Judge Koller intervened and asked Al-Bunni who filled the interview information into the template. Al-Bunni replied that his center hired a woman at the time to complete that assignment. After verifying the woman’s identity, Koller asked if the name of the person who worked on the transcript as well as the time of completion was recorded somewhere. Al-Bunni denied that such information was recorded. Surprised, Koller wondered why Al-Bunni omitted keeping a record of such information when conducting and working on an interview. Al-Bunni justified that his center is not an official body nor investigation was among its duties. He added that they were advised to adopt the concept of using templates, and they proceeded to implement it. Koller explained that it was the duty of the Court to evaluate the evidence and ascertain the credibility of the witnesses. In this case, Koller continued, the Judges would have to verify that P8 had made statements during the interview in 2020 similar to what he testified in the Court in 2023. However, Koller said, when the Judges find out that the information was transmitted to the transcript in 2023 and not in 2020, the Judges “would not be able to use that information.” The other Judges interrupted the Presiding Judge in objection. Koller corrected himself, saying: “It would be difficult for the Judges to use that information.” Koller added that the Judges aimed to eliminate the possibility that the person who worked on transferring the information to the record might have known details that were mentioned during the in-court testimony. The Judges objected again, interrupted the Presiding Judge, and demanded a break to discuss among themselves.

After a brief break during which Defense Counsel Al-Agi left the hearing, the Judges asked whether Al-Bunni could rule out the possibility that the person who transmitted the information to the template was influenced - intentionally or unintentionally- by information provided in court or to the police. Al-Bunni confirmed, pointing out that typos or errors when transferring numbers could exist, but there would not be errors in the text of the testimony under any circumstances, as it was transferred from the original as it was.

Endres resumed his questioning and asked Al-Bunni again about the general information at the beginning of the transcript. He asked if it was possible to obtain more information from the computer such as the date when the final template was created. Al-Bunni replied that he lacks such technical expertise. Endres found this strange since Al-Bunni was the one who organized work on these forms. Al-Bunni responded that he contributed to creating the templates so that the courts - and to a greater extent, his center - would benefit from it. Al-Bunni added: “But now, we will not share it anymore. We will only share the text of the testimony, without that preamble.” But this last statement was not translated by the interpreter.

Endres referred to the introduction that included information such as the rights of the witness, raising his awareness, how Al-Bunni’s Center handles the information provided by the witness, and informed consent. Endres wanted to know if this was part of the original interview and whether it had been read out to the witness. Al-Bunni explained that it was part of the “cliché” that was added to the template, and that it was outlined to the witness but not stated precisely or in detail.

Endres addressed another point, referring to a phrase in the transcript that read, “The witness gave his personal information to the Prosecution and the Court.” Endres wondered how the witness gave his personal information to the Prosecution if the interview was conducted long before the police questioned him. Al-Bunni justified that this was a typo, and that the intended meaning was “in case the witness gave…” Al-Bunni reasoned that misspellings and translation mistakes were possible.

Endres asked extensively about the introduction and the general and legal information within. Al-Bunni explained that these are general standards for questioning in all human rights organizations and are not specific to his center. Endres wanted to know who recommended using templates when taking witness testimony to Al-Bunni. Al-Bunni replied that he wanted to develop his center’s work to reach the standards used by human rights organizations. Again not translated by the interpreter, Al-Bunni added: “And we will never do it again.”

At the end of the session and before he was dismissed, Al-Bunni added that he thanks the Court, the Prosecution, and the Defense. However, he had to clarify that he was on the side of the victims and the truth, and awaiting justice, “and if he [M.] is convicted, this is a victory for us.” The interpreter missed translating the quoted part of his sentence.

Day 108 – December 21, 2023

Today's short session was dedicated to the translation of the interview transcript that Anwar Al-Bunni conducted with P8. The translation text was read out by the court interpreter who appeared as a linguistic expert. The reading included a few minor questions from the parties, which were clarified by the linguistic expert. Since the parties had no further questions after reading the translation, it was completed, andPresiding Judge Koller adjourned the session.


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