Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany
Trial Monitoring Summary #66
Hearing Date: January 23 & 25, 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 66th trial monitoring report details days 112 and 113 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. At the beginning of today's session, the Presiding Judge mourned and eulogized the court's interpreter, Mr. Farrag, who died in the previous week, in a speech he read in court. [SJAC is deeply moved and sad about his sudden death and expresses its condolences to his relatives and friends. May he rest in peace.] After a moment of silence in his honor, the questioning of P28 was resumed and completed. P28 testified that conditions in hospitals deteriorated after the unrest started in Syria. Later, the Judges asked him about his uncle who was accused of committing war crimes in Syria, but P28 preferred to say little, because he only knew what was circulating online. After a few questions from the Defense Team, the Presiding Judge dismissed the witness, announcing the end of his questioning.
On the next trial day of the week, a criminal inspector from the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) was called to testify in court. P28 was previously questioned by the Criminal Inspector, Mr. Knappmann, at the police office. In general, the Judges asked Mr. Knappmann the same questions they asked P28. The BKA inspector echoed P28’s answers which were noted in the police questioning transcript.
Day 112 – January 23, 2024
Presiding Judge Koller opened today's session with a speech he delivered to the parties and the audience. The Judge appeared and sounded sorrowful saying that he would open today’s session in an unusual manner. Koller announced that the Court received the news of the death of the interpreter, Mr. Farrag. In his speech, Koller praised Mr. Farrag. He said that Mr. Farrag had been constantly with the Court as an interpreter for two years. “We miss him very much,” Koller added. Mr. Farrag, Koller continued, enriched the Court with his expertise in the Arabic language and culture. He conveyed the meanings of the texts he translated and the testimonies he interpreted to the understanding of the Court. According to Koller, Mr. Farrag explained and clarified ambiguities until no more clarification was needed. Koller added that, “His professionalism was unparalleled. We always heard him say: “We know this already.” Koller further recalled that Mr. Farrag was a polite person who always respected everyone. “He will always remain in our memories.” Judge Koller said, then noted that Mr. Farrag’s brother and family were among the spectators. Koller asked everyone to stand up for a moment of silence, then announced a short break.
After the break, a new interpreter, Mr. Karim, introduced himself to the Court. Judge Koller informed him that the witness speaks German well, but witnesses may need help to clarify the meaning sometimes to prevent confusing the Court. Koller gave an example that took place in the previous session concerning the misinterpretation of the terms “follower” [German: Mitläufer] and “proponent” [German: Befürworter].
After that, P28’s questioning was resumed. The Judges wanted to know what changes he noticed in the hospitals after the unrest began in Syria and detainees were being brought there. P28 explained that the pressure increased and the work became more difficult. P28 further explained that the objective and the priority of the doctors shifted to rescuing patients and stopping their bleeding. Therefore, according to P28, elective surgeries were canceled, the doctors had to be thrifty with using medical tools, the quality of operations and hygiene deteriorated, and inflammation as well as infections disseminated in due course. When the Judges asked the witness whether restrictions were imposed on the staff’s work at the hospital, recalling his statements in the police interrogation, P28 admitted that the security checks intensified. Upon further questioning by the Judges, P28 explained that his security check was not altered due to his father’s position [as a head of Tishreen hospital], but that it was more difficult for his Sunni colleagues.
In the ensuing questioning, the Judges asked about the situation in the Valley of Christians [Wadi An-Nasara] – which the interpreter translated as “Hill of the Christians” [Tal An-Nasara] – and about the checkpoints on the roads heading there from Damascus. P28 explained that these roads were under government control. The Judges were interested in the contact between P28 and the Accused after the latter was arrested. P28 said he did not contact M., however, his brother, P26, had contact with M.’s wife at first but it became scarce later. Moreover, the Judges asked the witness about mutual colleagues and friends of both, P28 and M.
Presiding Judge Koller informed the witness that he was not obliged to answer questions that could result in prosecutions against him or a member of his family, in accordance with Section 55 and 52 of the German Code of Criminal Procedure. Koller said that the Judges would like to question P28 about one of his uncles and wondered whether he would like to elaborate to the Court, since his uncle was accused of killing civilians and committing violations and war crimes. P28 responded that he actually knew to which uncle the Judges were referring and reminded the Court that he had many relatives in Syria on his father’s and mother’s side. The Judges asked whether this meant that he did not want to disclose anything. P28 replied that he did not speak much with his uncle and that he only knew what he read online. Judge Rhode explained that the Court was interested in his uncle's position and rank. P28 clarified the matter and referred, when asked by the Judges, to his uncle’s rank, which the interpreter was unable to translate. Recalling Mr. Farrag, Judge Koller said that the Court misses his expertise in such topics.
Since neither the Prosecutors nor the Plaintiff’s Counsel had questions, the Defense Counsels proceeded with theirs. The questions of Defense Counsel Bonn revolved around P28's police questioning. When asked, P28 acknowledged that his German language skills improved since his police questioning. P28 added that the police questioning lasted long.
The Accused asked P28 about a specific incident, about which M. also asked P26 [see Trial Report 60]. P28 remembered the incident. M. asked P28 if he recalled asking M. to submit a leave request on P28’s behalf at the time of that incident. P28 faltered; affirming that he recalled it on the one hand, but stating that it was possible, on the other. The Judges wanted to clarify whether P28 was certain or merely speculating. They asked him to simply tell the Court if he does not remember. P28 said that he would like to help the Court. The Judges responded that they neither wanted his help nor his attempt to help the Accused, all they wanted was the truth. Agitated by P28's meandering, Defense Counsel Endres interrupted saying: “I do not remember,” [suggesting that P28 should simply reply that he does not remember]. Defense Counsel Al-Agi wanted to know if it was common for a person to apply for leave on behalf of his colleague. P28 responded that it was not uncommon but that he did not recall what occurred between him and M. Once the Defense Team's questions ended, the Presiding Judge announced the end of P28’s questioning, dismissed him, and adjourned the session.
Day 113 – January 25, 2024
In today's session, a criminal inspector from the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) testified in court. Inspector Knappmann previously conducted the police questioning of P28. The Judges asked Mr. Knappmann about the administrative matters and the substance of the questioning. Overall, the Judges repeated the questions they asked P28, comparing P28’s statements to the police with his testimony in court. The Judges referred to a handwritten sentence by P28 during his police questioning [see Trial Report 62], and explained that P28 testified differently in court. The inspector confirmed that this phrase was added by P28. Knappmann said that P28 stated that he alternated between hospitals every six months. Upon questioning, Knappmann explained that unlike what the Judges shared from his in-court testimony, P28 did not state that he stayed in Al-Mazzeh for three years. A satellite image was then displayed in court. Mr. Knappmann confirmed that he had shown P28 this image during the questioning. The inspector further confirmed that the writings on the image were added by P28.