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Inside the Alaa M. Trial #68: Kalashnikovs, not Flowers

Inside the Alaa M. Trial #68: Kalashnikovs, not Flowers

Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #68

Hearing Date: February 6 & 8, 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 68th trial monitoring report details days 116 and 117 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. The first day was dedicated to hearing the Head of Investigations at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), Mr. Deußing, who conducted the interview with P26. The officer confirmed most of the statements which P26 made during the questioning but recalled that it was tenacious because the witness circumvented several questions and denied having witnessed any mistreatment. Deußing specifically remembered that he was dismayed about the witness’s reply that “Both sides made mistakes!” after having seen photos of dead bodies on the ground in a courtyard. Deußing explained that the witness even became angry that he had to talk about this.

On the second day this week, a new witness appeared. P34 was asked about his background and how he knew Alaa M. The witness, an Alawite from Homs, was also asked about his political views and turned out to be a staunch Assad supporter. He also recalled Alaa M. describing the protesters as “terrorists” or “thugs” at times. The witness, however, did not believe that the allegations against M. were true because he was with him in Damascus during all of 2012 and he heard that the crimes allegedly took place in Homs during that same time.

Alaa M. and Defense Counsel Al-Agi repeatedly interrupted the testimony to correct (alleged or actual) mistakes by the new interpreter. Presiding Judge Koller emphasized how important it was that the interpreter does not miss any details. He explained that if information was not translated and only came up after the Accused asked for it, it could mean that he was influencing witness testimonies.


Day 116 – February 6, 2024

On this trial day, Mr. Deußing, Head of Investigations at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) testified before the Court. Mrs. Kühn, the linguistic expert who was summoned to resume the translation of a UN report which was started in the previous session, was unable to appear due to illness. Mr. Deußing conducted the questioning with the witness, P26, and was asked to provide details about it. The Judges wanted to know if he remembered the questioning or if he re-read the file in preparation for the testimony. Mr. Deußing said that he prepared by reading the file documents, but he recalled that the questioning was tenacious. The Judges told him that they had had the same experience.

Mr. Deußing explained that he and another officer conducted the questioning jointly, they offered breaks, drinks and snacks, and the transcript was re-translated. The witness made some corrections and signed all the pages, which were shown via the projector in court. The witness also made handwritten additions which were annexed to the 50-pages long questioning. The annex detailed names in Arabic and German which the witness wrote himself. According to Deußing and the transcript, due to the witness’s advanced level of German an interpreter was not necessary. The annexes listed former roommates of Alaa M. as well as colleagues.

Upon questioning by the Judges, Mr. Deußing further confirmed that the witness mentioned rotations within the hospital system, but that they were not obligatory. He recalled that the witness said one could submit a request to remain or be transferred and the decision depended on the supervisor.

The Judges were further interested in what the BKA officer recalled about the relationship between the witness and M. Mr. Deußing recounted that the witness knew M. from Aleppo, where both of them studied, they were close friends. Deußing added that the witness stated that their contact decreased when P26 went to Damascus and M. to Homs, both for their medical training. They saw each other a couple of times when M. visited Damascus and when they took a German language course. Their contact frequency increased after their arrival in Germany. They saw each other a few times, but mainly had contact via chat. Deußing recalled that, according to the witness, the last time they saw each other was at a New Year’s event 2019/2020. On this occasion, the allegations against M. had already been made, but M. rejected them, and the witness stated that they did not have much time to go into detail.

Deußing remembered that the witness was from a village outside of Homs, in the Valley of Christians. The officer further recalled that the witness did not have any issues when travelling there from Damascus, although the route was dangerous and street blockades were frequent. He also recounted that he asked the witness repeatedly about specific dates. He was interested in when M. worked in Al-Mazzeh, Homs, and Tishreen, but the witness could not provide the dates.

In relation to any mistreatment of patients, Deußing added that when he asked the witness to provide details on the circumstances in the hospitals, and even showed him some photographs of the Caesar Files, P26 replied that he did not witness anything, the bodies were all soldiers, and he never saw any mistreatment. Deußing explained that he had the impression that the witness repeatedly circumvented the question before giving some details. He recalled that it was tenacious until the witness conceded that there were patients who were blindfolded – but, according to P26, not in his department. The Judges confirmed that he behaved very similarly in court. Deußing recalled that he was dismayed about the witness’s reply that “Both sides made mistakes!” after having seen photos of dead bodies on the ground in a courtyard. Deußing explained that the witness even became angry that he had to talk about this.

Questioned by the Judges about what the witness said about M.’s stance towards the regime, the witness, according to Deußing, said that Alaa M. was against the demonstrators and thought that they were doing the wrong thing. Deußing remembered that P26 said M. believed they made things worse. Judge Rhode wanted to know how M. labelled the demonstrators and Deußing recalled that the witness states that M. called them “demonstrators and radicals”. Deußing also explained to the Court that during the police questioning, the witness denied having noticed the smell of bodies. However, the next day P26 called the German police station and admitted that there might have been such smell around 2013/2014. A colleague of Deußing received the call and made a file memo about it. After the Judges completed their questioning, the parties were asked but none of them had any questions about the questioning with P26.

Before closing the session, a file memo from October 2023 was inspected which was added by Deußing, yet the Court had not noticed it until the day before. It detailed a search by the BKA using key words such as “death, body, …” and several names. Mr. Deußing explained that he evaluated the results, but nothing was found. The parties to the proceedings did not have any questions for the BKA officer, so he was dismissed.

For the next trial session, the Judges were trying to summon a friend of M. who is residing outside of Germany, but they cannot reach him. The police tried to contact him but were not successful. Defense Counsel Endres called M.’s wife before the session started and informed the Judges that she does not have but will find the number of the witness and forward it to the Defense Team as soon as possible.

Day 117 – February 8, 2024

Today’s session began late, as the Court was waiting for the interpreter, Mr. Issam Khoury, to arrive. Presiding Judge Koller became quite agitated about his delay and said they would not work with him again. Alaa M. suggested starting without him since he does not require an interpreter, but Koller wanted to be on the safe side.

Finally, after a 20-minute delay, the session began and the witness, P34, appeared before the Court. The 35 years old Syrian is from Homs but lives in Europe where he works as an accountant. He is not related to but a friend of Alaa M. First the Judges asked several questions about his personal life and biography. The Judges were surprised when the witness told them that he lived in Damascus while studying in Latakia, but P34 explained that he did not need to be in university all the time, only for his exams. After his graduation, he started working as an accountant for a TV channel named Sama TV [a pro Syrian government channel]. At the end of 2015 he quit and left the country, because he would have been drafted for the military service and “did not want to be part of the conflict.” He came to Europe at the end of 2017.

Judge Rhode wanted to know if the witness continued working for Sama TV, which P34 denied. He also asked P34 about a shop he had in Homs, and the witness confirmed that he and his father opened a shop for spare parts for motorcycles after he left his job at Roots Steel. Presiding Judge Koller reprimanded the witness for not having told him about the shop when he first asked him what he did after leaving Roots Steel. P34 tried to explain that he did not think it was important, since it was not really a full-time job. He added that “The situation in Syria was unbearable and there was no future” in that country. He tried to reach Europe legally after that proved unsuccessful, he travelled via Greece to another EU state where he was granted protection.

The Judges then started asking about his relationship with Alaa M. The witness replied they had not been in touch since he went to Europe – they just spoke once – because he was busy and under lots of pressure starting his life. Upon questioning, P34 recalled that they first met in 2012 through a colleague. All of them lived in Damascus. This colleague was P34’s superior at work. At some point Alaa M. started driving the colleague to the bus stop in the morning and that is how the witness first heard about M. Apparently, Alaa M. had moved in with the colleague who had a big flat and some spare rooms. The witness recalled Alaa M.’s car model at the time.

The witness recounted that his colleague started arriving at the bus stop in Alaa M.’s car at the beginning of 2012. He remembered that it was winter. Confusion arose because Alaa M. interrupted, claiming that the witness said it was raining at the time, but the interpreter did not translate that. In standard Arabic, the word that was used means that it was winter, but M. claimed that in the Syrian dialect it means that it was raining. This was not the first and not the last time that Alaa M. or Defense Counsel Al-Agi interfered claiming that there was a translation mistake. Often the corrections were right, but sometimes wrong.

Judge Koller noted that the translation of the exact details was very important. He gave an example and explained that the witness may say it was winter, but the Accused wants everyone to think that he said it was raining, so he could interrupt and claim a mistake. If the Judge then asks the interpreter to confirm whether the witness had said it was raining and the witness then says that it was indeed raining, this would mean that the Accused has influenced the testimony of the witness, potentially making him say things that the Accused wants him to say, even when the witness did not originally say them. Judge Koller added that he did not aim to pressure the interpreter, but emphasized how important it was “that we always stick with the exact wording.”

Upon questioning by Judge Koller, the witness recalled that M. became part of the [friends] group around the time when the witness was preparing for his exams, in February 2012. They met regularly. P34 explained that he found out that M. was a doctor in training at a military hospital called Mazzeh 601. Judge Rhode seemed suspicious about why the witness knew the number of the hospital. He repeatedly asked how he remembered that number. P34 said that it was simply because 601 was the name of the hospital. The witness recalled that every time M. talked about work, he would mention it, e.g. “I was at 601…” etc. P34 added that they talked about work and recalled that “M. was proud of his work.”

Rhode asked P34 whether M. ever worked anywhere else during that time, which the witness denied. But the witness recounted that M. got injured by a stray bullet. P34 visited M. in the hospital but was unable to provide any details. P34 added that after a time of recovery at home, M. transferred to Tartous, “I think it was because of his injury, but I am not sure.” Upon questioning, the witness said he did not recall how long the Accused stayed in Tartous, only that he returned to Damascus in 2014 and worked in Tishreen Hospital.

Judge Rhode asked the witness about M.’s character and appearance at the time which the witness described in detail. P34 added that today M. looked different due to “the tragedy he is going through.” Asked about M.’s political position, the witness said that “as Syrians, the way we are brought up and educated in school is to love the Assad family.” He further recalled that after the events started, their group was against the opposition and for stability. P34 remembered that M. did not talk openly about his political position, because he worked for the Ministry of Defense. When acts of destruction or attacks on military or state institutions occurred, the witness recounted, M. called them “terrorists” or “thugs.” Upon questioning, the witness said, “Due to the way I grew up I was pro regime. That was my opinion, but I wasn't politically active. I was for stability. If you want to change something, you should do it peacefully, not through violence”.. He explained that he was against the opposition calling for Alawites to be killed. P34 added: “Just because the President is Alawite, all Alawites should die? Of course, if someone wants all Alawites to be killed, I will be against them.” The Judges wanted to know if he publicly talked about his support for Assad, and the witness denied but admitted that maybe once on Facebook he did.

The Judges thus showed the witness some of his posts which they derived from Facebook:

1) Posted on September 27, 2012: The post depicted a meme of Freddie Mercury holding up a picture of Assad. Next to it was written: “أنا أسدي” („I am an Assadist”). The post was from a group called „Best Group” and had the caption “Who is with me?”.

Asked about what he meant by this post, the witness said that he supported Assad and that he would get into trouble if the others took over power. P34 added that he was still young at the time and did not understand much about politics.

2) Posted on October 4, 2012 in the same group: A photo of a Kalashnikov with the caption “لبيك يا أسد” („At your service, Assad”)

Regarding the post, the witness explained that when hospitals or train tracks were blown up, he considered them acts of destruction. But he rejected that reacting to that meant he supported the war. P34 explained that weapons are a historic symbol for Arabs related to culture and honor. Presiding Judge Koller seemed not convinced that this was all the picture was about. The witness added that surely, he would not post a picture of flowers and said, “When I am being attacked, I won’t be silent.”

Judge Rhode asked how often they talked about such issues in their group. P34 explained that the others were Christian, and he was Alawite, so it was often an issue for them as they had experienced a lot of discrimination in Syria, especially during the Ottoman Empire. He added that he had heard lots of rumors about people being killed in certain areas just because of their religion. He further told the Judges that the protesters did not really have a plan for a revolution, they just joined because Tunisia and Egypt had done the same. The witness lamented that they complained about 40 years of Assad rule but did not have actual reasons and said that “If you have a revolutionary project, you need to know where you are going and you have to take the whole population with you.”

The Judges were interested in how P34 was personally affected by the revolution. He recalled not much happened in Damascus at first, but his way to work became much longer because of roadblocks and often needed longer to arrive at the university. Upon questioning, the witness denied that M. and another person ever talked about what they witnessed in the hospitals. He recalled that he talked about performing surgeries but never said on whom or gave any details. Judge Rhode remained suspicious about whether the witness still worked for Sama TV, because it appears on his Facebook Page, but P34 insisted that he has not been updating it and does not work there anymore.

In their final few questions, the Judges tried to find out what the witness knew about the case before testifying. P34 recounted that he once saw a report on Al Jazeera about a Syrian doctor in Germany who allegedly tortured protesters and texted Alaa M. about it – “Look they are writing about you” - but M. never responded. He added that Al Jazeera has a reputation among Arabs and explained that members of the opposition trusted it while pro-regime people did not. Asked about what he personally thought of the report and whether he believed it, P34 said he did not really, because it claimed that the torture happened in Homs in 2012 – but during that time he was living in Damascus with the Accused. In addition, he did not believe Alaa M. would do such a thing. “He is a good person. He wanted to work and develop. He was hard-working. Based on our friendship, I do not think he would do such a thing.”

Finally, Judge Rhode wanted to know if the witness ever heard about Alaa M. having trouble with a colleague, which P34 denied. The Prosecutor and the Plaintiffs’ Counsel did not have any questions. Defense Counsel Bonn then asked the witness to reaffirm what came first: his meeting Alaa M. or studying for the exams. The witness recalled that he met Alaa M. at the beginning of 2012 and after that spent a month studying for his exams. At last, Counsel Bonn wanted to know when the witness first saw Alaa M.’s Defense Counsels. P34 recalled that it was in Karlsruhe during the questioning [before the investigative judge at the Federal Court of Justice].

The witness was dismissed, but before leaving the courtroom he asked whether he may approach Alaa M. to say goodbye. The Judges told him that it would be better from afar. P34 and M. briefly nodded to each other with their hands raised to their foreheads, but M. hardly looked at the witness.


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