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Inside the Alaa M. Trial #65: The Missing Interpreter

Inside the Alaa M. Trial #65: The Missing Interpreter

Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #65

Hearing Date: January 15, 16 & 18, 2024

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 65th trial monitoring report details days 109, 110 and 111 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. The first day of the new year was dedicated to small issues. The interpreter read out a name from a screenshot and corrected another name mentioned in a video which he had incorrectly translated. The Court further read out a file memo by the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) detailing the background search of witness P29. Alaa M. gave a statement afterwards. Two press articles related to witness testimonies from 2020 were also read out.

The second day was delayed because the interpreter did not appear. The Court started being concerned about his whereabouts since he could not be reached nor did his family have information. Upon arrival of another interpreter, a new witness, P30, gave his testimony. The Judges were interested when exactly the witness and M. met in Syria and where M. worked at that time. P30 could not refine the time to more exact dates than during winter 2011/2012 but recalled that M. most likely worked in Damascus at the time. According to the witness, although M. did not support killings, he was a supporter of the regime.

On the third day this week, a new witness appeared in court. P31 is a doctor and a friend of M. The Judges asked him about their relationship. Several times during his testimony, P31 expressed his concerns implying that his statements or information might be leaked outside the Court. The Judges questioned him about P29 and what they privately discussed about the charges against their friend, M. P31 mentioned a former colleague of M.’s who allegedly threatened M. and P29.


Day 109 – January 15, 2024

The first trial day of the year was a short session which was dedicated to correcting minor issues related to translations and reading out a file memo by the German Federal Police Office (BKA) as well as press articles from 2020.

The first correction concerned a redacted screenshot. According to the Judges, a name was mistakenly redacted which should have been disclosed to the parties of the proceedings. The interpreter, Mr. Farrag, read the section in Arabic and told the Court the missing name. Mr. Farrag further corrected a name from a previous translation. It was part of a news channel’s video for which the interpreter submitted the written translation. The respective sequence of the video was replayed. Mr. Farrag informed the Court that the person who was being interviewed in the video said the name “Sho'ayb An-Nuqqari” twice instead of “Al-Mutari” which Mr. Farrag initially translated.

The Judges then read out a file memo by the BKA from February 22, 2021, concerning the background search on P29. In the note, the BKA confirmed that P29 was officially registered at the same address as M. for a certain period, as well as at M.'s cousin's address at a later date. The BKA further found that the CV and motivation letter of P29 and M. were almost identical and listed the details of how he obtained the visa for Germany. Alaa M. gave a statement after the file memo was read out. He corrected a logical mistake within the dates which the Judges acknowledged. He also explained that P29 lived with him in 2016 until M.'s wife arrived in Germany. According to M., he and his wife travelled to Syria from December 2016 until January 2017 due to a medical issue in the family. Within this time, P29 left M.'s apartment and moved in with M.'s cousin. M. speculated that P29 may not have officially re-registered directly after moving, so the dates noted by the BKA may not reflect the facts.

Lastly, the Judges read out two press articles. The first one was by Der Spiegel from May 2020 and the second one by the BILD from June 2020. Both articles concerned the questioning of witnesses by the Frankfurt court regarding a person who suffered from an epileptic seizure and died. The articles reported on the details of the testimonies and how Alaa M. was allegedly involved. The newspaper BILD labelled M. the “Torture Doctor”.

Day 110 – January 16, 2024

Today’s session was delayed by more than one hour. Since a new Syrian witness was summoned, Mr. Farrag, was supposed to serve as the interpreter. However, he did not appear at the start of the session, nor could the Judges reach him via email or on his phone number. The Court started being concerned about his whereabouts since he was known to be reliable and was present on the previous day. The Judges decided to organize a different interpreter for this day who would be able to appear as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the family of Mr. Farrag notified the Judges that they were concerned about his whereabouts as well.

With one and a half hours delay, the session started when a new interpreter, Mr. Mansouri, arrived. Except for a couple of clarifications throughout, the witness nonetheless testified in German. The witness, P30, was informed about his rights and duties and asked to provide personal details. The 38-year-old Syrian, a doctor currently living in Germany, is a friend of Alaa M. He said that he is originally from a village near Homs and worked in several hospitals in Syria including Al-Mowasat, Al-Assad, and Al-Bairouni which are all University hospitals where he performed his medical trainings. He recounted that he left for Germany in 2013. When asked by the Judges how he positioned himself towards the Syrian regime, he replied that he was neutral and “never said anything”. After explaining that he met M. through his best friend who studied medicine with M. in Aleppo, he was asked about M.’s attitude towards the regime. First, the witness replied that he was a follower [German: Mitläufer] but the term led to confusion. With the help of the interpreter, it turned out that P30 wanted to say that M. was a proponent [German: Befürworter]. The term follower is specific in the German context indicating the Nazi regimes support by the broad public. Presiding Judge Koller explained that the term would be defining someone who does not draw attention to him/herself, a proponent, however, is rather a supporter. P30 affirmed that he meant proponent. The Judges told him that this corresponded to what he told the German police during the questioning. They nonetheless asked P30 to elaborate what he meant specifically by proponent. P30 recalled that M. deemed the regime’s behavior the right thing. P30 further clarified that he did not mean that M. actively supported killings. P30 added that M. never expressed anything like this. But he also remembered that M. thought that the demonstrators should not act like they did and instead wait for the government to solve the problems in the country. Upon questioning by the Judges, the witness denied ever hearing M. calling demonstrators “insurgents or terrorists”. When asked, P30 recalled that he saw soldiers, but he never witnessed any violence, clashes, or acts of war himself.

The Judges were particularly interested in the exact time when P30 and M. got to know each other in Syria. At first, the witness could only recall that it must have been between the end of 2011 and early 2012. He recalled that at the end of 2013, he left Syria and M. stayed until M. also went to Germany in 2014. Judge Koller wanted to know in which hospitals M. worked at the time. P30 recounted that M. worked in Al-Mazzeh 601 and in Tishreen. Later, when confronted with the details by the Judges, the witness confirmed that M. may have also worked in Tartous. More specifically, at the time of their meeting, P30 recalled that M. worked in Damascus where he most likely had already been working when they met. The witness was unable to refine the exact time of their meeting besides narrowing it down to “probably in winter”. The Judges asked further questions, but P30 did not recall any indicator or certain events which were pivotal so that he would have been able to recall any specific details. Questioned about M.’s wife, the witness was unsure whether and where M. and his wife had already met but he speculated that it must have been in Homs. P30 could not, however, recall her name without the help of the Judges. The witness further did not confirm that M. had any conflict with another doctor in Syria, nor that someone had requested M. to work in a field hospital and care for members of the opposition. Confronted with a name, P30 did not know it. The Judges spoke about the former colleague of M.’s and the person who, according to M., falsely accused him. P30 also did not remember that M. was injured. The Judges asked him if he remembered a bullet wound which at first invoked a memory, but the witness then admitted that in fact it does not ring a bell.

The Judges were also interested in P30’s reaction to the accusations against M. P30 recalled that when he heard about the allegations, he was surprised and sad for M. Upon questioning by the Presiding Judge, he said that in this moment, he did not think that any of it could be true. The Judges wanted to know if M. spoke about it with him, the witness denied and added that they had only sporadic contact. Upon questioning, the witness recalled that they spent New Years Eve 2019/2020 together with about 8 other families in a castle which they rented. Since the allegations against M. had already been made at that time, the Judges wanted to know if they had discussed the issue that night. P30 denied, to the surprise of the Judges.

The Judges did not have further questions, neither did the Prosecutor and the Plaintiff’s Counsel. The Defense Team raised a few issues and was mainly revisiting the question of the exact timing of the first meeting with M. in Syria. Counsel Bonn asked P30 to imagine New Years Eve 2011/2012, the first years after the unrest had started. He wanted to know if P30 recalled where he was at that time. P30 replied that he was unsure but that he usually spent it with his family in his village, near Homs. Counsel Bonn started his next question which the witness anticipated and directly answered. P30 recalled that they did not face any issues on their way to his village, since it is located outside of Homs, and they did not have to pass through. At last, Alaa M. raised a couple of questions of which the aim remained unclear. For instance, M. wanted to know if P30 knew if M. worked in Damascus at the time when a particular person left for Germany, namely at the end of 2011. The witness was unable to recall anything related to the question. M. further wanted to know if P30 knew a certain doctor who worked at the private clinic in Damascus called Medical Surgical Hospital [Mostashfa At-Tebb Al-Jirahi مستشفى الطب الجراحي]. P30 explained that if the doctor was in orthopedics there, he most likely met him. M. wanted to know if P30 ever saw him at that hospital, which the witness could not answer.

The witness was dismissed after the Defendant did not have any further questions and the hearings were adjourned.

Day 111 – January 18, 2024

On this day, a substitute interpreter was present, since the court interpreter was absent today as well. A new witness, P31, appeared in court. P31 is a doctor working in Germany and one of M's friends. After the Judges asked the witness about the addresses in Germany where he was registered, it turned out that he lived with M. and M.’s cousin for a period of time. P31 told the Court how his relationship with M. developed; M. helped him find a job and supported him when P31 was worried about his sick mother. M. offered to buy him a flight ticket to Syria to visit her.

Referring to the situation in Syria and the conflict between the Assad government and the opposition, the Judges wanted to know P31’s stance on the matter. P31 said he was neutral and did not side with either, as the whole situation was “shit”. [Note: Apparently, the witness was worried about something, which the trial monitor was unable to notice because he could not see the witness’s face. However, the Presiding Judge noticed it and addressed his concerns.] Presiding Judge Koller explained to the witness that the person in the public gallery worked for a human rights NGO. Koller told P31 that he should not be concerned and reassured him that this spectator [referring to the trial monitor, who was the only spectator at this hearing] would not publish details about him or his personal information. The Presiding Judge turned to the trial monitor asking him to verify whether that was correct, which SJAC’s trial monitor confirmed.

After that, P31 resumed, saying that he had always been apolitical, and did not speak with M. about the demonstrations in Syria. The Judges wanted to know the topics they spoke about instead. Since P31 did not know M. in Syria, he only knew about M. what M. shared with him in Germany. P31 recounted what M. told him, such as the hospitals M. worked in and the injury he sustained. The Presiding Judge inquired about M.’s injury, but P31 denied knowing details. Presiding Judge Koller was surprised that P31 did not ask about the details of M.’s injury despite claiming to be a friend of his. Koller deemed that abnormal. P31 responded that he was not very interested in the matter. Judge Rhode stated that he did not believe P31, stressing how important such a topic was. P31 reiterated that he was not interested and added that he did not recall much of that conversation with M., as a long time has passed since then.

The Judges then addressed another topic and asked P31 whether and what he knew about P29. P31 replied that P29 was his friend and that they lived together. The Judges wanted to know what P31 knew about a particular incident that P29 experienced. P31 wondered whether he should recount details concerning that incident. After the Judges repeated their question, P31 recounted that P29 and M. were in his house. Privately, P31 added, P29 told them the details of an incident he had in Syria that required surgery. M.’s supervisor performed the surgery on P29 while M. participated as an assistant doctor.

In the ensuing questioning, the Judges wanted to know what M. told P31 regarding the charges against him. P31 replied that M.’s colleague threatened to come after M. in Germany and to ruin his life. P31 added that M. showed him the Facebook conversations in which that colleague threatened M. The Judges asked P31 if there was another ground for the colleague to threaten M., such as if they had a quarrel over something. P31 said that M. did not tell him about such a matter. P31 added that the colleague posted statements against Christians and Jews. Upon questioning, P31 told the Judges that he did not remember where he read them. P31 further told the Judges that he saw that colleague in company with two armed people in an online photo, and in another photo the colleague was himself armed. Both photos were displayed in court.

Going back to P29’s story, the Judges wanted to know if P31 and P29 had a conversation regarding the charges against M. P31 said that he did not want to talk about this matter because he feared for himself and P29. The Judges reminded the witness that this was a public trial session and asked him who he was afraid of. “Of this person,” P31 replied. [Note: The trial monitor did not know whether P31 meant the trial monitor or the colleague who allegedly threatened M.] P31 added that he fears for his family in Syria because of that threat. The Judges were surprised because P31 did not mention anything about threats during the police questioning. P31 explained that he did not mention that because he was afraid. The Judges reiterated to P31 that he was a witness in court and reminded him of his duty to tell the whole truth. They explained that there was no media in court nor intelligence personnel to leak details outside the Court. Eventually, P31 confirmed that P29 told him about an incident that took place with that colleague. P31 narrated the details of that incident to the Court. [Note: The background details of this incident are available in Trial Report 63.]

Since neither the Prosecutors nor the Plaintiff’s Counsel had any questions, Defense Counsel Bonn started the Defense Team’s questioning. Bonn asked P31 to confirm whether his rights were read to him before he was questioned by the police, including a section that gave P31 the right to refrain from answering any question that might subject him or his family to the risk of being persecuted [referring to Section 55 of the German Criminal Procedure Code], P31 confirmed. Bonn then passed the torch to his colleague, Al-Agi, whom it did not take long before he was reprimanded by the Presiding Judge for attempting to direct the witness with his questions. After the Defense Team's questioning ended, the Presiding Judge adjourned the session.


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