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Inside the Alaa M. Trial #8: Rising tensions

Inside the Alaa M. Trial #8: Rising tensions

TRIAL OF ALAA M.

Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #8

Hearing Date: April 5 & 7, 2022

CAUTION: Some testimony includes descriptions of torture.

Note that this report 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.

Highlights:

Day 10 – April 5, 2022

On this day, M. concluded his statements on the subject matter of the case and follow-up questions were asked by the Judges, Prosecutor, Plaintiffs Counsel, and Defense. As in previous sessions, the defendant did not answer all of the Plaintiffs Counsels' questions.

The Court also heard the first witness, the Criminal Chief Inspector from the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) who is leading the investigation in M.'s case. The investigator described the development of the investigation, including the Office's cooperation with the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) and the UN’s International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria (IIIM). The testimony also provided a first overview of the Caesar Files and the workings of the Syrian Central Crisis Management Cell (CCMC) in 2011. In their questioning of the investigator, the Judges were particularly interested in the extensive media coverage of M.'s case prior to and throughout the investigation, including a report that provided detailed information about the case, apparently derived from the case file.

This extensive media coverage led the Presiding Judge to explain to the audience how sharing details of the proceedings are complicating the Judges' work in determining the source of witnesses’ knowledge and assessing witness credibility.

Day 11 – April 7, 2022

At the beginning of this session, the Presiding Judge updated everyone on the communication between SJAC and the Court in relation to SJAC’s reporting on the trial. As a result, SJAC took down its full-length trial reports and will publish less detailed summaries. The Judge added that he will observe SJAC’s website as well as other organizations’ websites to see if anything "problematic" is being shared, so that "one can find a solution, of course without restricting the press." He also reminded other trial monitors to not publish details during the ongoing trial. When reminded by a Defense Counsel that extensive media coverage was an issue in Koblenz, the Presiding Judge replied that he wonders why the Court in Koblenz never said anything about extensive reporting.

The trial session was dedicated to the inspection of various media reports preceding and during the investigation of German authorities in M.’s case. The Court also inspected several video clips that were gathered during the investigation. The Judges first read out a report by Der Spiegel which included many details that were later included in the official indictment, as well as details about evidence and the investigation that was ongoing at the time of the report’s publication. The Court then viewed a range of videos. Some were open source or transmitted by the IIIM, and other clips were gathered during the investigation. The videos were shown in Court and the German translation was read out where applicable.

The Court then dealt with M.'s visa application and annexed CV, again pointing out discrepancies between information that M. provided to authorities and his statements in court, especially relating to his places of residency.

Trial Day 10 – April 5, 2022

The proceedings began at 10:07AM at the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt (Main), Germany with five spectators and two media representatives in the audience. A camera team took videos inside the courtroom before the start of the session.

Testimony of Mr. Deußing, Criminal Chief Inspector at the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA)

Judges’ Questioning

Criminal Chief Inspector Deußing from the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) was the first witness heard in the trial. He is the leading investigator in Alaa M.’s case and provided an overview of the investigation into Alaa M., the relevant structural investigation into crimes committed in Syria, and the Caesar Files.

Deußing described how the BKA started monitoring alleged incidents at Homs Military Hospital in early 2019. Alaa M. emerged as a key suspect after the BKA spoke with witnesses and obtained relevant information from German authorities, international mechanisms, and NGOs. Deußing further described how witnesses were identified in various ways, including through media reports. The BKA eventually started monitoring Alaa M. who was in contact with the Syrian embassy in Berlin regarding COVID-19 related flights from Germany to Syria in 2020. Shortly after these calls, M. was arrested, and his place of work and residency were searched.

When questioning Deußing, the Judges were particularly interested in the role that media played prior to and during the BKA’s investigations into M.’s case. Deußing explained that “it is not wrong to say” that the media conducted their own investigations in parallel to the BKA’s investigations. At times, the BKA also used previous media reports as investigative leads. Deußing also confirmed that descriptions and allegations that came from a former colleague of Alaa M. were a central part of media reports. Many witnesses also referred to these reports and the former colleague during their interviews with the BKA. However, there were also witnesses who had no connection to this colleague who incriminated Alaa M. during their interview with the BKA.

The Prosecutors had no questions.

Plaintiffs’ Counsels’ Questioning

When asked by one of the Plaintiffs’ Counsel about how far the arm of the Syrian regime reaches into Europe, Deußing said there were indications of threats made by the Syrian government during the Koblenz Trial, but he could not determine whether these threats were valid or the extent to which the Syrian Intelligence Services are operating in Europe.

Defense Counsels‘ Questioning

The Defense Counsel also focused their questioning on alleged threats against witnesses. Deußing briefly recalled the reported threats against a witness in this present trial. When again asked a similar question, he detailed that the BKA also found that M. attempted to identify witnesses incriminating him in the media.

Questioning of M. on the Subject Matter

The Prosecutors had no further questions for M.

Plaintiffs’ Counsel’s Questioning

M. did not answer all the Plaintiffs’ Counsels’ questions, such as why he became a doctor in the first place. M. answered questions about the nutritional condition of detained patients at Homs Military Hospital. He described how some of the patients were skinny and might have been come to the hospital from the Intelligence Services by security staff. M. also said that detained patients were usually blindfolded, wore underwear, and tied to their beds. M. said he cannot provide further elaborations on malnourished patients as he did not have time to focus on these things and cannot say if the patients received their allotted three meals a day. M. also clarified some points about his education upon one of the Plaintiff Counsel’s requests.

Judges’ Questioning

The Judges had a few follow-up questions on the Homs massacre in April 2011. M. said he cannot remember any shooting or a spike in injured patients. The day that the Judges described to him was a regular day for him.

Defense Counsel’s Questioning

The defense team asked M. several questions about problems he had with colleagues. M. described a few instances where he had disputes with colleagues over personal or professional issues. M. said he either solved these problems or simply cut contact with the relevant person.

The proceedings were adjourned at 2:39PM

Additional Remarks

Presiding Judge Koller called an article by Der Spiegel “outrageous” as it included large parts of the indictment. He said that sharing details about the trial is complicating the Judges’ work in determining the source of a witness’s knowledge. The Judge added that he is keeping track of who is taking notes on which trial day and will summon notetakers as witnesses if needed.

Trial Day 11 – April 7, 2022

The proceedings began at 10:05AM at the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt (Main), Germany with ten spectators and one journalist in the audience. A camera team took videos inside the courtroom before the start of the session.

The Judges first read out an article from Der Spiegel, dated December 2021, about the case of Alaa M. Defense Counsel Endres commented that Der Spiegel sent him a list of questions to which he did not reply. Endres assured the Court that the journalists did not get any information from him.

Video Displays

Several short clips and longer videos were shown. German translations were read aloud when applicable. Some videos were opensource, while others were obtained during the investigations conducted by international mechanisms and other executive measures. The videos and clips showed: media reports on Military Hospitals in Syria, Syrian government affiliates and supporters living in Europe, corpses packed in bags and dumped in mass graves, corpses of alleged minors, and scenes of the inside and outside of Military Hospitals. After several questions and a dissection of specific scenes from videos, M. recognized some buildings and surroundings. However, he said that he did not recognize anything in relation to a yard where corpses were stored or to a mass grave where corpses were dumped.

Judges’ Questioning

The Judges then turned to M.’s visa application and the accompanying documents in order to question M. about inconsistencies regarding his place of residence at the time when he filed the application in early 2015. After multiple questions about where M. was living and why he provided contradictory information about his residence to the German authorities, M. said he was not thinking when he filled out the forms and listed his family’s location instead of his own.

Additional Remarks

The Presiding Judge recalled that, following his address to all journalists and notetakers during the last trial day, SJAC contacted the Court’s Press Office to explain its trial monitoring work, which involves the publishing of detailed trial reports based on notes taken during the trial sessions. The dialogue resulted in SJAC removing its full-length trial reports from its website until the trial concludes. The Judge told the parties that he checked SJAC’s website and confirmed that the full-length reports are offline. He then addressed the notetakers from ICWC and reminded them not to publish anything on their website until the trial concludes. Defense Counsel Al-Agi added that detailed trial monitoring was a problem in the Koblenz Trial. The Presiding Judge said he does not understand why the Court in Koblenz never said anything about the issue. He concluded that the conversation with SJAC was cooperative and friendly and that he will regularly check the website of SJAC and other organizations to see if details about the trial are being published. He encouraged others to do the same, and if anything “problematic” is published, “one can find a solution to that.”

The proceedings were adjourned at 2:37PM

The next trial day will be on April 25, 2022 at 10AM.

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