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Inside the Alaa M. Trial #25: Hacking for facts

Inside the Alaa M. Trial #25: Hacking for facts

Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #25

Hearing Dates: October 31 & November 3, 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.

SJAC’s 25th trial monitoring report details days 40 & 41 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. The Judges questioned the interpreter who was present during the asylum interview of P4, but he did not recall anything about it. The Judges then showed some official documents and discussed them with the linguistic expert. After that, the Judges read reports from the German Criminal Police Office (BKA) and the German Intelligence Services (BND) which revealed that the Accused communicated with certain people, including the Media Officer at the Syrian Embassy in Berlin who offered the Accused a flight to Syria. On the second day, the Judges continued their questioning of the third survivor-witness of the trial. The Judges compared the statements P8 provided in his in-court testimony with the statements of his cousin during his questioning. As the Judges started to question P8 on how his family received his brother’s body from the Military Hospital, P8 got emotional. The questioning of P8 by the Prosecutors started and finished on the same day. The Presiding Judge explained to P8 the psychosocial support program for witnesses in Germany and urged him to seek one where he lives.


Day 40 – October 18, 2022

The Judges started the session by questioning P9, the interpreter who was present during P4’s asylum interview. P9 stated that he was just an amateur and that it was one of his relatives who invited him to work as an interpreter at the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). The Judges asked P9 whether he interpreted verbatim what P4 said during his questioning or summarized his statements. P9 replied that he usually interprets what the person says during the interview as he understands it, reminding the Judges that he was not an official interpreter. The Judges wanted to know how the interview with P4 went, but P9 could not recall P4 or what happened during the interview. The Judges tried to refresh P9’s recollection, so they gave him hints and quoted parts of the questioning transcript, referring to the countries that P4 went through on his asylum journey, but their efforts were futile. The Judges thanked P9 for coming before he was dismissed.

The Judges then showed screenshots of the slip of paper that P8 presented during his questioning and of conversations he had on the internet, then asked the linguistic expert to translate their content. Then, official documents belonging to P8 were shown, including a permit to bury his brother in which the Syrian regime dictated restrictions, such as the place and time of burial. The Judges then asked the court interpreter for clarification regarding a specific colloquial term, which he constantly interpreted in a literal manner in previous sessions, turning it into an unfamiliar expression. The court interpreter clarified the meaning and cleared up the confusion. Should such expressions arise in future sessions, the Judges asked the court interpreter to avoid the literal translation and translate the meaning instead.

The Judges then showed reports prepared by the German Federal Criminal Police (BKA) and German Intelligence Services (BND) on Alaa M. and they read parts of them. The reports included a photo of a documented research on P8 which was part of a communication between M. and others. A report showed the conversation between M. and one of the “hackers”, which included M's question about the Syrian Electronic Army under the control of the Syrian regime. After that, the Judges read parts of the reports that revealed several matters, including M’s communication with people in the United States, and the correspondence that took place between M. and Aktham Suleiman, who reassured M. and told him about a flight organized by the Syrian embassy to evacuate its student citizens from Germany due to the Covid pandemic. The Judges asked M. if he had any explanation for these matters. M. disclosed that the “hacker” he communicated with was an information technology (IT) student in Syria. M. justified the communication between them by stating that he was inexperienced with the internet and social media at the time when reports about him were spreading, such as the Al-Jazeera report. In a comment on that report, P8 claimed that M. tortured him and his brother. There was also a report by Zaman Al-Wasl with similar allegations, which shocked and horrified him. M. had asked some of his relatives to assist him in his attempt to search for evidence until the Prosecution issued an indictment against him. So, he contacted the “hacker” hoping to be able to extract some information from P8’s Facebook account, such as by identifying who sent P8 after M. However, the “hacker” returned to M. empty-handed. The Judges wanted to clarify the method M. was considering and how it would have been possible for him to extract information from P8’s Facebook account. M. explained that he hoped to find in P8’s personal account correspondences in which M’s former colleague turned P8 against M.

M. then went back to the issue of the Syrian Electronic Army of which he spoke highly. He explained that the army was composed of people. It was not a military organization, as its name suggested.  M. acclaimed the Electronic Army and praised it for publishing evidence and video clips against ISIS in 2013 and 2014. M. justified his decision to ask the Syrian Electronic Army to provide him with information about the people whose names appeared in the reports published against him. M. claimed that collecting information was suggested by his former German lawyer, and that he did not want to use a "hacker" for that purpose.

M. then addressed the point about his communication with people in the United States, explaining that one of them was his brother who offered for M. to take a vacation to travel outside Germany at his expense after the brother read what was  published on social media about M. and his children. The Judges wanted M. to clarify what his brother meant by “taking a vacation and leaving Germany,” as it might be understood that his brother was urging him to flee. M. confirmed and said he, however, turned down his brother's offer and told him that he wanted to stay in Germany and fight to the end, as he had legal rights, but he lost the battle against the German press because a major newspaper like Der Spiegel dismisses those who stand against it. M. explained that the other person in the United States with whom he tried to communicate was a Washington Post journalist who Aktham Sulaiman knows. M. wanted to send him evidence that his former colleague was inciting violence against Jews and Christians, but M. failed.

Regarding Aktham Suleiman, M. explained that he was one of his relatives who helped M. to contact Suleiman. M. said he knew that Suleiman was a journalist working at the Al-Jazeera office in Berlin until 2012, and wanted him to contact his former colleague Faisal Al-Qasim and ask him to stop publishing reports against M. as his social media followers are many, and he had started publishing against M. since 2019. Suleiman replied that he was no longer in contact with Al-Qasim and could not help M. in that regard. However, he offered to translate M’s documents. M. praised Suleiman who helped him without taking a “penny.” Suleiman suggested that M. travel on a flight organized by the Syrian Embassy to Syria via Beirut.

The Judges wanted to know what relationship M.’s brother had with Bashar Al-Ja’fari. M. explained that his brother was only trying to help him and said that he wanted to help M., but he did not know anyone in the United States, and there was no communication between the U.S. government and the Syrian Embassy. So, M.’s brother thought that the best solution might be with the United Nations and the communication with Al-Ja’fari. M. stressed that he did not know Al-Ja’fari personally. He only knew Al-Ja’fari through television, and neither he nor any of his relatives had contacted Al-Ja’fari in their lives.

Day 41 – November 3, 2022

The Judges continued their questioning of the third survivor-witness of the trial. They started the session by asking him if he was threatened in this case or if there were attempts to influence him, which P8 denied. The Judges recalled the incident in which M. allegedly gave a pill to P8’s brother and questioned him about it, then asked P8 to further describe the place where he was detained. After that, the Judges quoted from the police questioning transcript of P8’s cousin, pointing out some discrepancies between their statements. P8 explained what was problematic, stating that he was describing what he went through personally, even if his cousin described something different. The Judges then asked P8 if there was any contact between him and his cousin after their questioning by the police and if so, the content of it.

The Judges moved to another topic and proceeded to interrogate P8 about the situation in which his relatives received his brother’s body from the Military Hospital and the condition of the body they received, so P8 got emotional. After a break was announced by the Presiding Judge for P8’s wellbeing, P8 described how his relatives received his brother’s body and how they could only identify his brother’s body by a mark on his face, as the body was covered with signs of torture. The Judges then asked questions about a slip of paper that P8 had and whether he communicated with former detainees after his release. The Judges asked P8 if he communicated with certain lawyers and human rights organizations and wanted to know how he ended up getting to know his counsel. With their questions, the Judges then highlighted people whose names were mentioned in the Al-Jazeera video and wanted to know whether there was contact between them and P8. The Judges’ questions then focused on P8’s police questioning, the circumstances surrounding it and how it went. P8 explained that everything went well.

The Prosecutor, Mrs. Schlepp, who represented the Prosecution on her own that day in the absence of her colleague, began her questioning and asked in-depth questions about the details of the previously raised facts and events. She explained that she might have more questions in the subsequent session after she discusses with her colleague the materials and information that were presented. Since the correspondence between P8, journalists, and other people was saved on P8’s broken mobile phone, the Judges asked if it was possible to borrow that mobile phone to show it to the competent authorities so that they could try to extract any information relevant to the case. They asked P8 to consult with his lawyer about this and P8 explained that he had no objection to that.

At the end of the session, the Presiding Judge announced that the defense's questioning of the witness would begin in the next session, which would be P8's last questioning session. P8 said that, since his first day in court, he only went to work once. He only went for two hours and could not continue because he recalled things that he tried to forget during his testimony. The Presiding Judge said that it was understandable and explained to P8 that there is a psychosocial support program for witnesses in Germany, and that he would see what the court and the BKA could do to help P8 with his work in the country where he lives. The Presiding Judge explained to P8 that there is a possibility - albeit small at times - that victims will be re-traumatized when they recall what they survived. The Presiding Judge added that what might be a source of help and consolation for P8 is to know that many people around the world are following this case and interested in it. The Presiding Judge wished P8 all the best and urged him to visit a psychiatrist at his place of residence.


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