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Inside the Alaa M. Trial #75: Spirit of a Christian

Inside the Alaa M. Trial #75: Spirit of a Christian

Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #75

Hearing Date: May 27 & 28, 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.

[Note:  SJAC continues to provide a summary of the proceedings while redacting certain details to protect witness privacy and to preserve the integrity of the trial.]

SJAC’s 75th trial monitoring report details day 131 and 132 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. On this trial day, a new witness, P40, appeared in court. He said that the work environment in Al-Mazzeh hospital was uncomfortable and intimidating. When asked about his stance on Al-Assad's regime, he replied that he was against all dictatorial regimes, but every word of his counts and he did not want to lose the privilege to travel to his country. P40 said that Sunnis and non-Alawites were viewed with suspicion and under the supervision of military doctors. They disappeared, either kidnapped or something bad happened to them.

The witness described the bad conditions of the detained patients and the type of injuries observed on them. He also heard that these patients were beaten or tortured. The witness explained that patients' screams could be heard in the hospital, but he could not say whether they were due to beatings. He also heard about death cases among detainees and storing of their corpses. He could not however say whether there was a smell of corpses in the hospital. P40 said that M. was not against Al-Assad and that M.’s spiritual appearance suggested that.

In the second session this week, the questioning of P40 resumed. The Judges questioned him further about M. and his injury. They were surprised when P40 told them that he did not remember performing surgery on M.'s injury despite the fact that P36 testified otherwise. P40 was asked about other colleagues in Al-Mazzeh, the shifts there, and the of the mandatory military service.

[Note: The Court did not yet finalize the questioning of P38. According to the Judges, P38’s testimony will resume on June 20, 2024. Due to SJAC’s policy not to disclose information from testimonies by witnesses before they are dismissed, Trial Report #74 will be withheld until P38’s testimony is completed.]

Day 131 – May 27, 2024

On this trial day, a new witness appeared in court. [Redacted name] P40 is a forty-year-old [redacted information] doctor. He was born, raised, and studied in [redacted location]. Regarding his medical training, P40 explained that his options after finishing his medical studies were limited to three: University Hospitals (but his grades were insufficient), Ministry of Health Hospitals (but it would take longer to register there), or Military Hospitals, which is what he decided to do. Throughout his testimony, P40 often reiterated that he tried to fulfill his medical duty as much as possible, that most of his work took place in operating rooms, and that the work environment was uncomfortable and intimidating. The witness appeared defensive when he was questioned about the circumstances of his work. Although he was demanded to testify in Arabic by the Judges, the witness kept switching to German and the Judges had to tell him repeatedly to switch back to Arabic whenever they did not understand him.

P40 listed the places where he performed his medical training and his itinerary until he arrived and worked in Germany. The Judges noted that one may have been born and raised in one place, one may however come originally from another. They wondered whether this was the case with P40. P40 confirmed and explained that although his family lived in [redacted location], it is originally from [redacted location], a village in Dar’a. The Judges' questions then revolved around P36 and his relationship with P40. P40 recounted the details of their strong friendship and how they studied together in school and university, worked together in hospitals, applied together for a visa to Germany, and took together the German language exam. Presiding Judge Koller asked if P40 spoke with P36 about the trial. P40 confirmed and asked whether it was prohibited. Koller denied and explained that witnesses are however recommended to refrain from discussing with each other. When P40 was asked how he resolved the issue of military service, P40 replied that he traveled to [redacted location] until he was able to postpone it and then paid the military service allowance four years later.

Judge Koller noted that P40 grew up in Syria and wanted to know his position on Al-Assad and his regime. P40 said he was a civilian against violence, believed in peace and was against dictatorial regimes. Judge Koller said that he could infer that P40 was referring to Al-Assad when he mentioned dictatorial regimes and asked if his understanding was correct. P40 replied that every word counts here and that he fears for his [extended] family in Syria even though his [nuclear] family is outside Syria. Presiding Judge Koller explained that this was the case with other witnesses and reiterated what he told them at the time: The Syrian regime is seeking international recognition, most recently by returning to the Arab League. Koller added that it would not be prudent for the Syrian regime to try harassing the Court's witnesses. The Presiding Judge asked P40 to inform him if something like that happened. P40 said that he can visit his country once a year and he did not want to lose that privilege.

The Judges noted that the unrest began in Syria in 2011 and wanted to know how it affected P40's personal and professional life. P40 recounted how the Arab Spring events in 2011 or 2012 started peacefully at first, then something started to simmer below the surface until violence by the regime and armed rebels increased. Little by little, the situation evolved. P40 and others were under intense and frightening pressure because he worked in a place where he was surrounded by military and intelligence services personnel watching every move of his. If P40 wanted to move away from where he was working, he would have been held accountable, especially since many of his colleagues had disappeared and were nowhere to be found. The road to work became dangerous and everyone knew that the intelligence services were everywhere in Damascus, even in hospitals.

P40 explained that Sunnis - or rather non-Alawites, like P40 and his colleagues, were a source of concern in the hospitals, [viewed with suspicion], and they were under the supervision of military doctors. Judge Rhode asked what P40 meant when he said that his colleagues disappeared. P40 explained that they were kidnapped, or something happened to them, as P40 and his colleagues no longer saw them. P40 noted that these were conversations behind the walls. When Rhode wanted to know which religion the disappeared belonged to, P40 replied that most of them were Sunnis. P40 knew that something bad had happened to them, as they were not individual cases, and many of them were from areas such as Dar’a and Idlib where their families were living under shelling. P40 added that these doctors changed their workplace.




After the break, the Presiding Judge told the witness that the Judges had the impression that it would be better for the witness to testify in Arabic, and then followed up with a question about the tasks of military hospitals compared to civilian ones and the types of injuries that were observed in the hospitals after the outset of the unrest. P40 explained that there was no difference between these hospitals in dealing with patients, but the military hospitals were designated to treat military personnel and their families as well as retirees. In terms of injuries, P40 witnessed gunshot wounds, fractures, trauma, and wounds. He added that one could see an increase in the rate of such injuries in Al-Mazzeh and Harasta compared to Tishreen.

After that, Judge Koller asked about the detained patients. P40 said that they were civilians and military personnel, and it was not allowed to ask about them. According to P40, they came to the hospital with numbers without names, blindfolded and shackled, accompanied by military or intelligence services personnel. Their general condition was poor and so was their nutritional state, with wounds, bruises and chronic infections. Since P40 could not determine the cause of these injuries during his testimony, the Judges reminded him of his statement in the police questioning when P40 stated that these injuries, dehydration and lack of nutrition were due to medical negligence and possibly torture, which P40 confirmed in court. P40 explained that the detained patients were placed in a special section, whose access was not allowed, and in another section of the hospital. P40 always tried to send junior doctors to that section if possible to avoid having to go there himself. At the request of the Judges, P40 described the section and rooms where the detainees were held, stating that the situation was catastrophic, terrifying, and under constant surveillance by armed personnel of the intelligence services.

Judge Rhode wanted to know how the intelligence services personnel reacted when the doctor treated those detainees. P40 explained that he was asked to finish as quickly as possible, and that showing any sympathy for them could lead to charges. According to P40, the situation there was as if one was walking on a thin line separating his medical duty on the one hand and fear for oneself on the other. The Judge wanted to know what consequences might befall P40 if he showed sympathy. P40 said he was afraid that he or his family would be harmed, or at the very least, that his medical future would be ruined.

Subsequently, a satellite image of the Homs Military Hospital - which was shown to P40 during the police questioning in which he showed the hospital's departments - was displayed in court. The Judges questioned P40 about the image and asked him to explain it.




The Judges resumed the hearing and wanted to know if P40 heard about torturing detained patients. P40 explained that he did not witness anything himself but heard that they were tortured. When the Judges asked who tortured them, P40 asked if it was safe for him to talk about it, expressing his concern about threats [hinting at the audience]. The Presiding Judge asked if P40 was subjected to threats. P40 denied but expressed fear for his family or that he would not be able to travel to his country. Judge Koller explained that the Court cannot protect those in Syria but only those on its territory. Koller then reminded P40 of what he previously said about the Syrian regime seeking recognition. P40 said that the torture was mainly carried out by security forces and personnel of the intelligence services. P40 added that military personnel, including nurses and doctors, may have been involved as well. P40 did not know how the patients were tortured, but he said that one could see the torture marks: wounds and bruises. P40 mentioned the names of his two Sunni colleagues - [redacted names] - who told him about the torture and were in the same group with P40 and P36. When P40 was asked about the situation in the emergency department, P40 said that he did not go down often to the ER from the operating department, however, he was also told that the treatment of the detained patients was cruel and that they may have been beaten.

When P40 was asked about other departments and whether the screams of the detainees were heard from them, P40 indicated that the general situation was bad, but he could not distinguish whether the screams were due to torture or illness. P40 could not rule out either option but said that various colleagues told him that the detainees were beaten. P40 explained that there were military doctors who were in charge of the detainees, such as [redacted names]. Judge Rhode asked about [redacted name]. P40 replied that this person was partly with P40's group and P40 thinks that he came to Germany. P40 added that there was another doctor called [redacted name] but P40 did not meet him much during work. Rhode asked if P40 exchanged news about the detainees with these two doctors mentioned by P40. P40 denied, explaining that they were [redacted information] and although they dealt well with P40, he did not talk about this matter with anyone.

Judge Rhode asked if P40 heard of death cases in the hospital. P40 responded that he heard of detainees who died in the hospital and of corpses that were collected and stored somewhere until the vehicles of the intelligence services arrived to transport them. Since P40 denied seeing corpses himself, the Judges asked if there was a smell of corpses in the hospital. P40 said he could not be certain that it was the smell of corpses specifically, as there were multiple unpleasant odors and multiple causes.




After a brief break for discussion, Judge Koller wanted to know how P40 got to know M. and his experience with him. P40 said that he got to know M. when M. came to Al-Mazzeh Hospital in 2012, according to P40's recollection. P40 knew M. through [redacted name], P28. P40 recounted that M. was injured in late 2012, then disappeared and did not return to work. M. later returned to Al-Mazzeh in 2012 or 2013. P40 then suffered a fracture and did not go to work for two or three months in 2013. Upon return to work in Al-Mazzeh, P40 found that M. was no longer working in the hospital.

Moreover, P40 explained that he met M. at work almost every day. He confirmed that M. assisted him in some operations after the Judges reminded P40 of his statements during the police questioning but clarified that he does not remember those operations now. The Judges wanted P40 to describe M.'s personality. P40 said that M. was a person who loved life, from a Christian background, and was financially well off as he had his own car. P40 added that M. was not an introvert, liked to talk with others and about himself, and had charisma. After the Judges reminded him of his statement to the police that M. was a bragger, P40 confirmed and noted that his interaction with M. was limited to the professional level and that he did not meet M. outside of work.

Judge Koller asked if M. expressed his political stance on Al-Assad’s regime. P40 explained that they did not talk about this but added that M. was not against the government; he was not from the opposition. When the Judge asked him how he came to this conclusion, P40 replied that in Syria one does not talk about politics in general, but that was what M.'s overall “spiritual appearance” suggested. Judge Koller wanted to know what P40 knew about [redacted name], P28. P40 said that P28 comes from a Christian family in Homs, his father was in charge of military hospitals, and that he and P40 were only colleagues who exchanged congratulations on holidays and other occasions. Judge Koller wanted to ask P40 about P28’s uncle, but the other Judges dissuaded him from that. Judge Rhode then pointed out that P40 and other Christian doctors, such as M. and P28, formed a Christian community in the hospital and was surprised that they were not in contact, nevertheless. P40 explained that they did not have a friendship, such as going out together after work, their relationship was rather limited to work. Rhode said that this was exactly why he was surprised. P40 responded that he had other friends and mentioned that work at that time was not normal as fear and work pressure prevailed; P40's main concern was to leave the country as soon as possible.

The proceedings were adjourned at 3:40 PM

The next trial day will be on May 28, 2024, at 10AM.

Day 132 – May 28, 2024

In the second session this week, P40’s questioning was resumed. Since P40 did not have anything, he would have liked to add to his testimony yesterday, the Judges began questioning him. Judge Rhode recalled P40 testifying that he met M. at work almost every day and wanted to know if there were times when P40 did not see M. at all, such as when M. was on vacation. P40 said that this occurred many years ago and that he did not remember anything specific other than weekends or sick leave. Rhode wondered if M. traveled to see his family or fiancée at the time. P40 affirmed, adding that M. used to drive his car to Homs regularly, noting that he learned about this from gossip and not necessarily from M. directly. Rhode then noted that P40 told the Court that M. had his own car and wondered if this was something exceptional. P40 confirmed and explained that most of the colleagues were from the middle class or below, and most of them were students or still in their medical training. P40 concluded that it was a big deal for someone to have their own car, unlike using their parents’ car.

In the ensuing questions, Judge Rhode addressed the topic of M.'s injury and wanted to know what P40 recalls in that regard. P40 first wanted to point out that having a colleague absent from work for weeks at that time overburdened the colleagues. P40 heard from his colleagues that M. was injured in the [redacted information] in the fall or winter of 2012. Rhode noted that P40 stated in the police questioning that the injury occurred in December 2012 but P40 crossed this detail out at the end of the interrogation adding in handwriting that the injury occurred at the end of 2012. P40 responded that he currently does not remember the exact time of the injury and recalled that he discussed it with P36, and their conversation may have influenced P40 to change that information.

Rhode recalled that upon his questioning about M.'s injury, P36 told the Court that he performed the surgery on M. after he was injured. P40 replied that he could not remember if P36 was the one who performed that surgery.  Rhode asked incredulously, “Do you know the person that P36 told us he operated with? He told us it was you.” P40 replied that he does not remember operating on M. Rhode was surprised, noting that it is unusual for someone not to remember operating on a colleague, as it is something peculiar. P40 reiterated that he does not remember now that he performed the surgery.




After a short break in which the Judges discussed, a medical report on M.'s injury was displayed in court. The Judges asked P40 several questions about the document, and P40 explained that the difference between the mentioned date of injury and the date the document was issued was normal, since requesting that report could have been made months after the injury. P40 was unable to determine the exact time of M.'s injury based on when P40 sustained a fracture in 2013. Judge Rhode asked the witness if he knew where M. went after Al-Mazzeh. P40 replied that he was told that M. went to [redacted location] but P40 was only certain that the hospital was not in [redacted location]. Rhode asked if the hospital M. transferred to was Tartous Military Hospital. P40 replied that it is possible, but he does not know.

In response to the Judges’ questions, P40 explained that he did not talk to M. or anyone else about the detainees, as he was afraid to talk about this topic. P40 did not have rounds and visits to detained patients with M.; both were only together on morning rounds. They had no contact in Syria but twice in Germany; M. congratulated P40 in one of them and consoled him in another. P40 heard about the accusations against M. in the media but did not contact M. and inquire about the matter. Judge Rhode wanted to know how P40 reacted when he heard about the accusations. P40 asked “How should I react?” P40 added that he did not learn about the accusations from M. and that the news was disturbing to everyone who heard it [the answer was translated that P40 was shocked by the news, and P40 corrected the translation saying that the news was rather disturbing]. Rhode then asked whether the witness thought that it could be possible that M. could have committed what was alleged. P40 replied that this was a decisive point, and he would not go into it. Rhode asked if P40 felt sorry for M. P40 said, “What can I say?” and added that he could only say that it would be difficult for anyone. Rhode recalled P40's statement to the police when P40 stated that he did not know whether M. committed what was alleged but that P40 sympathizes with those who were tortured and with M. because he has a wife and children. P40 told the Judges that he stated that because M. has a family, therefore, P40 feels sorry for M.’s family and for everyone who was affected by this [acts alleged in the charges].

After that, Judge Rhode asked about M.’s external appearance during the time in Al-Mazzeh. P40 said that M. was a person who was always good-looking, well-dressed, had charisma, and was open to the world. Rhode said that his question was about the external appearance. Since P40 remained silent as if he did not understand the question, Judge Koller intervened and asked whether M. was slimmer or bigger than he is now. P40 responded that M. was the same as he is now [note: M. could be considered relatively thin, as many previous witnesses described that he had more weight back in Syria than now]. Koller said, “Aha... as he is now...” and asked about M.’s hair. P40 replied that it was the same, but M. certainly looks older now. [Redacted information. P40 described M.’s external appearance and outfit.]

The Judges asked P40 if the name [redacted name] [D5] rings a bell. P40 affirmed and told the Judges that D5 was an [redacted information] doctor who lived in the Al-Mazzeh neighborhood, had a private practice and a contract with the hospital as a specialist doctor, which was uncommon in Syria. Although he was not a military doctor, P40 added, D5 had a special contract and shifts with military doctors. D5 trained and mentored doctors, but he had a closer relationship with M. In response to the Judges’ question, P40 said that D5 was definitely with the regime.

Referring to the mandatory military service, Judge Rhode asked if P40 had a military booklet. P40 recounted how he postponed his military service and explained that one used to postpone in his own region [of origin] if it was safe, otherwise, there was a center in Damascus dedicated for postponement of the military service. P40 further explained that a doctor had to submit a document from the hospital indicating that one was still performing the medical training in order for the military service to be postponed. Judge Rhode asked whether the transfers between the hospitals were documented in the military booklet, which P40 denied.

After that, Judge Rhode recalled P40 testifying about the detained patients and their abuse in Al-Mazzeh Military Hospital during the previous hearing. Rhode wanted to know whether there were detained patients in Tishreen Military Hospital as well. P40 responded that at the time, there were only peaceful demonstrations and that whenever injured were delivered to the hospital, the doctors were not allowed to deal with them, except for the military doctors and those close to them from the civilian doctors. P40 was told that these detainees were placed in the basement, and when they arrived at the emergency department, certain doctors dealt with them.

Since the Prosecutors and the Plaintiff's Counsel did not have any questions for the witness, Defense Counsel Bonn started the Defense Team’s questioning. Bonn wanted P40 to explain the shift system in Al-Mazzeh. After a vague explanation in German, the Judges asked P40 to restate his answer in Arabic [as they did for many of the questions]. P40 explained that there are approximately three groups, each group having doctors of different ages [seniors and juniors]. When the day shift ended, the night shifts began. Some doctors went to the operations department while others went to the ER. The day shift lasted from 8:00-8:30AM to 1:30-2:00PM and there were 24-hour-shifts. P40 described that armed men accompanied the doctors wherever they went to keep an eye on them. Doctors were under intense pressure, both psychological and moral, and it was impossible for the doctor to provide adequate care to the patient.

Defense Counsel Al-Agi asked about the bombing that took place in Damascus. P40 explained that he does not remember where he was at the time, but he was not on duty with M. Al-Agi then asked about the center where one could postpone his military service in Damascus. P40 explained that it was [Military Department] “[redacted name]”. Al-Agi recalled P40 testifying that M. used to travel to Homs. Al-Agi asked whether P40 meant Homs the city or the countryside. P40 replied that he meant the countryside because M. is not from the city.

Finally, M. went on and asked questions that were already answered. After M. ran out of questions, Judge Koller said that he already understood the same answers from P40 before.

Since there were no more questions, the Presiding Judge thanked and dismissed the witness.

The proceedings were adjourned at 12:48 PM

The next trial day will be on June 4, 2024, at 10AM.


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