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Inside the Alaa M. Trial #26: Crocodile tears

Inside the Alaa M. Trial #26: Crocodile tears

TRIAL OF ALAA M.

Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #26

Hearing Dates: November 8 & 10 2022

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 26th trial monitoring report details days 42 & 43 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. The Defense Team started their questioning of the third survivor-witness in the trial. After they finished their questioning, the Presiding Judge announced that this was the last day of P8's testimony, thanked him for coming and testifying and wished him all the best. After the witness was dismissed, the Accused started to cry and claimed that he was a victim as well. He indicated that he has not heard his children’s voices since he has been detained. The next day, a linguist expert testified in court by translating a video the court had sent her. Then a report from the German Federal Police Office was shown revealing the secrets of the conversations that took place between the Accused and a former journalist who worked as an employee at the Syrian embassy. The report showed the extent of assistance provided by that employee to the Accused, as he offered him seats on a flight from Germany to Syria.

Highlights:

Day 42 – November 8, 2022

The Presiding Judge asked P8 at the beginning of the session if he was willing to hand over his broken mobile phone to the Court so that the Federal Criminal Police office could try to extract information from it, and P8 agreed. Counsel Endres began the Defense Team's questioning of P8 by recalling the situation when P8 stated how his relatives had received his brother's body from the Homs Military Hospital. Endres recalled that the Judges previously asked P8 about the name of his relative who received the body, but P8 preferred not to reveal the name, and the Judges agreed at that time. On this day, however, Endres insisted on knowing the name of that person. While the parties to the case were discussing the matter, Counsel Al-Agi asked what risks that person might be exposed to from the Syrian regime, and the Presiding Judge retorted that everyone at this stage should know what those risks are, adding that he wanted to announce frankly that there was information that was leaked from an email he sent to the parties to the case, and accordingly, the Presiding Judge assumed that either one of the parties had leaked that information - since it was not mentioned in the courtroom - or that his email had been hacked. After a discussion that included two breaks, the Defense Team withdrew their question.

The Defense Team's questioning then revolved around the incidents that took place during P8's detention and release, the media outlets and the people who communicated with him afterwards. After that, the Defense Team asked about the details of an interview that an international organization conducted with him. Then they moved on to the subject matter of the case and the extent to which P8 had access to it through his Counsel.

Counsel Al-Agi asked a few questions that frustrated the Presiding Judge. The Presiding Judge asked the interpreter not to translate Al-Agi’s questions until he heard them first and allowed them, as Al-Agi repeated questions. Then it was the turn of the novice Counsel who recently joined the Defense Team, and after she asked two questions, the Presiding Judge suspended the session and announced a break. He asked the lawyer to take advantage of the break and to present her questions to the experienced Counsels Endres and Bonn so as not to embarrass herself before the court. After the break, the Defense Team resumed their questioning of P8 and asked in-depth questions about his asylum application in one of the European countries and about some people who appeared in the Al-Jazeera video. The Defense Team concluded by asking about the doctor, M.’s fellow, and asked P8 to describe his appearance and whether he abused his brother or other detainees.

The Presiding Judge rounded off P8’s questioning by thanking him for his testimony, wishing him on behalf of the Judges all the best and that he finds peace and solace with his family. P8 thanked the Judges and the German Police and stressed his trust in the German judiciary. Counsel Endres said he had something to say after dismissing the witness. Endres referred to the closing speech of the Presiding Judge to P8 and said that he reassured M. and explained to him that the speech of the Presiding Judge to the witness was merely a form of showing respect, and that this would not dissuade the Judges from considering the contradictions in P8's statements when evaluating his testimony. The Presiding Judge told Alaa that he did not need to worry about this, and that when he thanks witnesses, he appreciates their effort coming to Court, considering that they were victims of mistreatment, but this does not mean that it might affect his or his fellow Judges’ judgment and convictions. The Presiding Judge concluded by saying that the worst thing that could happen to judges is to convict an innocent person.

M. said sobbing that he wanted to offer his condolences to P8 before he left, but he was unable to do so. [It was unclear what M. meant: either M. did not have the opportunity to say anything to the witness before he was dismissed, or that he could not offer his condolences because he was not psychologically prepared or for other reasons]. M. claimed to be a victim, like how P8 is a victim of the Syrian regime. M. repeated what he said in previous sessions that he had rights to demand, that he did not want to flee Germany, and that the goal of the hacking attempt was to collect information to prove his innocence. M. then referred to the Judges’ previous conversation with P8 in one of the sessions about psychosocial support, and noted that he had been in detention for thirty months and had not heard his children’s voices since then. The Presiding Judge wanted to know if M. had more to say in order to give him a break to sort out his thoughts, but M. had nothing to say, so the Presiding Judge ended the session.

Day 43 – November 10, 2022

On this day, a translator, who had translated a video clip upon the request of the Court, appeared on the witness stand as a language expert. The clip was shown in court and translated orally. The video showed footage from inside the hospital, including of patients with signs of torture shackled to their beds. The parties discussed some of what was shown in the video before the witness was dismissed.

After that, a report by the Federal Criminal Police Office was shown detailing the conversations that took place between M. and Aktham Suleiman, who was an employee at the Syrian Embassy in Berlin. It became clear from the report that M. wanted to leave Germany and go to Moscow, Tehran, or the Emirates. Suleiman insinuated that the borders with Belgium and France were open at the time. The report showed how Suleiman helped M. on several levels: at times he linked him to the Syrian Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior, in addition to officials inside the Syrian Embassy in Berlin, and at other times he tried to connect him with a journalist in the United States. Also, Suleiman was the one who recommended the lawyer Al-Agi and sent his contact information to M. The report disclosed their private conversation and the information they were sharing, such as screenshots of comments and links to people's profiles, and their discussion on reports about M. published on the Internet. M. accused a former colleague of his of being a radical Islamist, a terrorist and a Christian-hater. The report revealed that Suleiman offered M. seats on a flight from Berlin to Syria, after Alaa asked persistently, but M. eventually turned down the offer. M. asked Suleiman to contact Faisal Al-Qasem, who has a large following, and ask him to delete the posts Al-Qasem published about M. Suleiman, however, apologized and said that he no longer had any contact with Al-Qasem.

The Presiding Judge asked M. if he had anything to say in that regard, and M. replied that he wanted to clarify some points. M. said that his communication with Suleiman was not in-person, but rather on the phone. He said he asked Suleiman about the flight because his wife “grumbled” a lot about the threats on Facebook and the general situation. When the Presiding Judge asked M. if the threats were the reason he wanted to leave the country, M. replied that the reason was his wife and the threats they received about Sharia law and kidnapping his children, but M. succeeded eventually in calming his wife down. M. added that praise for Al-Assad and his regime, which was in his letter to the Syrian authorities, was written by Suleiman and not him. M. was unable to change anything after reading it and did not comment on it because his family was in Syria. At another point, M. explained that he had asked Suleiman to correct a mistake indicating that he was working at a military hospital in 2012, and asked him to change it to 2011, noting that the correction had taken place before the witnesses testified in court.

Regarding Al-Agi, M. explained that translating the documents he used to send to his German lawyer cost him a lot. So Suleiman helped translate them, as well as the reports and videos that M. sent to Suleiman. All M. wished for was an Arabic-speaking lawyer in order to save the costs and trouble of translating into German. When Suleiman recommended Al-Agi, the lawyer, to M., M. was glad because Al-Agi not only spoke Arabic, but was Syrian as well. When Suleiman told M. that Al-Agi was a Christian, M. said it was "the tiptop".

The Judges then asked about the IT team from which M. sought help. M. explained that the two people were his relatives and tried to help him collect evidence as members of his family, no more. When M. was asked about the information he used to send to Suleiman, M. said that he used to send him reports and videos about M. in order to translate them and add his comments to them, since Suleiman had previous experience working in journalism. When asked why he described his former colleague as a radical Islamist terrorist, M. said he wanted to introduce his former colleague to Suleiman who did not know him. The Judges asked M. why he falsely accused his colleague of being an armed fighter. M. replied that he had clarified in previous sessions that this was an exaggeration on his part, as his colleague only asked him for help in the field hospital. After that, M. explained the details of the conversation that took place between him and Jihad Al-Jojo [the attaché of the Syrian embassy in Berlin], in which M. told him about the reports and videos published against him and that he was afraid that a case would be filed against him, so Al-Jojo reassured him (after Suleiman told M. that Germany was preparing a major case, but M.'s name was not mentioned in it). This was allegedly the only time in which he communicated with Al-Jojo, and it was because of the flight.

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