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Inside the Alaa M. Trial #67: Is Hiding the Truth the Same as Telling a Lie?

Inside the Alaa M. Trial #67: Is Hiding the Truth the Same as Telling a Lie?

Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #67

Hearing Date: January 30 & February 1, 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 67th trial monitoring report details days 114 and 115 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. On the first trial day this week, a new witness appeared in court. P33 is a doctor and friend of M. P33 testified that he neither treated nor saw civilians from the opposition in the hospitals where he worked, aside from soldiers and their families. P33 further said that he heard from his colleagues that detained patients were being treated in the hospital. P33 added that patients in the hospital, whether detained or military, received the same treatment. The Judges repeatedly stated that they did not believe P33’s claims. P33 admitted that he contacted P26 who shared the questions he was asked in court with P33. However, P33 emphasized that apart from the questions, P26 did not provide him with details and information.

On the next trial day, P33 continued his testimony. When the Judges confronted him with P28’s statement in court, P33 did not confirm that M. was a supporter of the Syrian regime. After the Defense Team’s questioning was completed, the witness was dismissed. The Accused then clarified a point that was misunderstood in court, according to M. The hearing was concluded with the reading of a report by the United Nations.


Day 114 – January 30, 2024

On this day, a new witness testified in court. P33 is an ophthalmologist working in Germany and a friend of M. P33 explained that he worked in several hospitals in Damascus, including military hospitals such as Al-Mazzeh, Tishreen, and Harasta. When the Judges asked him about his stance on the Assad regime, P33 replied that he was neutral and not interested in politics. Nonetheless, he added, when the war started in Syria, religion played a key role. P33 went on to say that he is from the Christian minority. He comes from a Christian village in Hama that was and is still pro-regime. The Judges inquired about the patients he treated in military hospitals. P33 said that he only treated soldiers and their relatives. He further told the Judges that he did not treat civilians or members of the opposition, furthermore, he did not even see them in hospitals. The Judges wanted to confirm whether P33 meant the period after the unrest began in Syria. P33 recalled that the unrest began in Dar’a in 2010 and asked the Judges if he was correct.

Upon extensive questioning by the Judges, P33 conceded that his colleagues told him that they treated injured people from the opposition. When the Judges wanted to know how his colleagues knew that the injured were pro-opposition, P33 meandered until he eventually admitted that they were brought to the hospital by the police, stressing that he neither treated nor saw the injured people but only heard about them. When the Judges asked him what he heard about the treatment of these particular patients, P33 replied that they were treated normally as all other patients: treatment was given to the injured, medicine was provided to the needy, and operations were performed for those who required surgery. Outraged by P33's answer, Presiding Judge Koller wondered whether P33 was taking the Judges for a fool and thought they were naive. Koller reminded the witness that the Judges have been working on this case for over two years. Koller further told P33 that he did not believe a word of his, since the Judges heard from several witnesses about detained patients who were brought to the hospital blindfolded, whose hands and feet were shackled to the beds, and were beaten with medical and other tools by doctors, nurses and soldiers. P33 reiterated that he neither heard nor saw that. He further said that ophthalmologists stayed in their department, where patients were sent. P33 added that ophthalmologists rarely visited the emergency department. The Presiding Judge seemed disgusted and said he did not believe P33 and had no further questions.

Judge Rhode proceeded with questioning the witness and asked him whether the treatment of detained patients was a topic discussed among doctors. P33 replied that there was no need for doctors to talk about that topic. P33 repeated that civilians and soldiers were equally treated, which he heard from other doctors. Rhode said he did not believe P33. Defense Counsel Endres interrupted and asked the Judges to issue a break. Koller asked the witness to wait outside the courtroom while the parties discussed something. After the witness left, Endres stated that the Defense Team did not want to question the witness. Prosecutor Zabeck wondered why. Endres told her that the witness either knew nothing or was concerned about something.

Upon P33’s return, Presiding Judge Koller asked him if he knew the photos of the Caesar files. P33 responded that he heard about them in the media, but he did not see or look for them, nor was he interested in them. Judge Rhode asked whether the smell of corpses spread in the hospital. P33 explained that there was no such smell in the hospital before the war. Upon further questions by Rhode, P33 speculated that the corpses belonged to soldiers.

After that, Judge Adlhoch asked about P33’s duty in the emergency department. P33 replied that he worked mainly at the ophthalmology department and only went to the emergency department twice or thrice. Judge von Arnim asked whether P33 meant two or three times a day, a month, or otherwise. P33 clarified that he meant every shift. Surprised, Judge Koller recalled that P33 told the Court that he rarely went to the emergency department. Koller wondered whether P33 did not see pro-opposition patients there nevertheless, P33 denied. Koller said he did not believe P33 and that this could be deemed lying in a German Court. Koller wondered if P33 was afraid of something, concerned about his relatives in Syria, or did not want to talk about a certain topic, all of which P33 denied. Koller said that he did not fathom why P33 would lie in court. P33 replied that he would only say what he witnessed.

In the ensuing questioning, the Judges asked the witness about the hospitals where M. worked, the relationship between them, and how M. helped him with some documents. P33 explained that M. sent him a CV template that P33 filled out with his information. When the Judges further questioned him about the information included in his CV, it turned out that the content was different from the information P33 testified in court. P33 admitted that he did not change that information in the CV and kept it as it was, so did he in his motivation letter. The Judges wondered why P33 omitted to mention Al-Mazzeh and Harasta hospitals in his CV. P33 said that Tishreen Hospital was the main hospital where he spent most of his medical training. The Judges asked whether P33 ever helped M. or gave him advice in general, which P33 did not recall.

Moreover, Judge Rhode asked if P33 was in contact with P26 regarding the testimony in court. P33 admitted that they discussed the matter. P33 added that P26 did not provide him with details but merely told P33 the questions he was asked. Rhode then questioned the witness about a celebration that M. and his friends organized in a castle they had rented in Germany. At the time, P33 explained, M. told him about someone following him in Germany and this was related to an old incident. P33 did not ask M. about the details because he is not a prying person - as P33 described himself - and tried to calm M. down instead. Koller wanted to know why that person accused M. P33 speculated that the person’s village was bombed in the war and his family was killed as a result. The witness seemed to be indicating that the person wanted to take revenge on M.

At the end of the hearing, Presiding Judge Koller expressed his disappointment as the Judges thought they would end the questioning of P33 earlier, but it seemed they would need a third hearing after the next one. P33 said that the Judges could carry on with their questioning now so that he would not have to travel again for a third hearing. Koller said that P33 had to come again if necessary, and then adjourned the session.

Day 115 – February 1, 2024

On this trial day, P33's questioning resumed. At the beginning of the session, P33 explained that the rotation between hospitals took place every six months and only in two specific months he mentioned. The Judges asked P33 if he could remember at which hospital he worked at a particular time, P33 could not. The Judges noted that P33 described himself as neutral towards the Assad regime and wanted to know M.’s stance thereon. P33 said that some people exaggerated in supporting the regime, but he did not notice that M. did the same. Disregarding the “exaggeration” part, the Judges explained that one may still support the regime. P33 said that M. did not [support the regime] every day. The Judges wanted to know what P33 meant by that. P33 changed his statements and said that M. never [supported the regime]. P33 then digressed by saying that their concern was to overcome this ordeal and survive. The future, P33 continued, was uncertain as there were many Islamist groups that exploited the situation. Recalling that P28 testified that M. was 70 - 80% pro-Assad, Judge Rhode asked P33 how he would conceive that. P33 responded that he did not remember M. as such.

After that, the Judges asked P33 to describe M.’s character. P33 responded that the M., whom P33 got to know, was an ordinary, funny, kind, and generous person. M. always invited him to his house for food and barbecue, P33 added. Subsequently, the Judges named people and asked P33 to tell the Court what he knew about them.

Since the Prosecutors and the Plaintiffs' Counsel did not have any questions, Defense Counsel Al-Agi opened the Defense Team's questioning with his sole question. The Accused followed by pointing out that P33 named two months during which one could rotate between hospitals. M. wanted to know if it was possible for a doctor to move to a hospital for work in a month other than those two months. P33 did not understand the question and required time and intervention from several parties until M.’s question was clarified. Other than during the two specific months he mentioned, P33 denied the possibility of moving to a hospital at some other time.

After the questions ended, Presiding Judge Koller announced that P33's questioning was completed earlier than expected, and therefore this was the last day for P33. Koller then dismissed the witness as well as the interpreter, after which Defense Counsel Endres asked if changing the interpreter was an option. Defense Counsel Bonn stated that M. would like to clarify a specific point. M. said he was surprised when the Judges asked if P33 gave M. any advice. M. added that during his in-court testimony, M. meant another person who shares the same family name as P33. The Judges said they would verify this later.

After a break, Ms. Kühn appeared in court to read the German translation of a United Nations report on the situation in Syria. Sixteen pages through, Presiding Judge Koller announced that the Court was done with the reading for today, the report will be completed at a later date, and adjourned the session.


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