Inside the Alaa M. Trial #24: Sophistry
Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany
Trial Monitoring Summary #24
Hearing Dates: October 18 & 20, 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 24th trial monitoring report details days 38 & 39 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. The Judges continued their questioning of the third survivor-witness in the trial. The Judges displayed sketches that the witness drew during the German Police questioning and discussed them with him. The Judges also privately showed the witness sensitive pictures and documents and asked him about them. The Accused and his Counsel tried to stifle the work of the trial monitor by complaining to the Judges that the trial monitor was copying what was displayed on the screens, but the Presiding Judge shut them down, explaining that they had no reasons to be suspicious. On the second day, the witness was questioned about his release, the media outlets which reached out to him and other matters. The Presiding Judge rebuked one of the Defense Counsel for interfering with the Arabic interpretation. Due to the fact that the witness got emotional several times, the Presiding Judge issued multiple breaks for him. The witness concluded the session by holding the Accused responsible if any harm befalls his family.
Day 38 – October 18, 2022
A new lawyer, who has been attending the trial since the early court sessions as a trainee under supervision of Defense Counsel Endres, joined the Defense Team. The Judges’ questioning of the third survivor-witness in the trial continued. The Presiding Judge started the session by asking P8 when he was detained and released. The Judges then presented to P8 pictures showing signs of the injuries he sustained during his detention, which were documented by investigators of the German Police during their questioning, and P8 confirmed that the pictures are his. Nevertheless, P8 denied being examined by a forensic doctor in Germany as the Judge had stated. The Judge remedied the situation by asking P8 whether he was willing to be examined by a doctor - if needed - and P8 agreed.
After that, several sketches of the cells, rooms, and corridors that P8 drew during the police questioning were shown in-court. The Judges asked P8 in-depth questions about the details related to the sketches and asked him to describe them, including what he saw and experienced. P8 described these cells, estimating their sizes and the number of detainees inside, as well as other details and nuances the judges asked about. P8 went on to describe the torture he was subjected to in the lobby of the detention center and elsewhere.
While P8 recounted to the Court the details of the encounter that he and his brother had with the accused, Alaa interrupted the conversation, expressing his frustration to the judges that the trial monitor was closely examining the display screens and copying the sketches. When the Judge explained to him that there were people in the audience who had been granted the right to take notes by the Court, Alaa put forth muddled comments. The Judge did not understand what the accused wanted and suggested he take a break, consult with his Counsel, arrange his thoughts and then state what he wanted. After the break, the accused’s Defense Counsel stated that what distressed M. was the possibility of leaking details of the trial when he saw the trial monitor writing down what he saw on the screen. M. then became alarmed that the trial monitor’s sketches would be published. The Judge replied that he had already urged everyone in previous sessions to avoid publishing details of the trial, and that the Defense Team should follow what is published in the media and share what they find troubling with the judges. Until then, the Judge concluded that the defense team had insufficient cause for suspicion and concern.
P8 continued to describe the incident in which M. allegedly gave a pill to his brother, who later died. Once the Judges finished asking P8 about the details of the incident, they proceeded to ask about what happened after his brother died. P8 went on to recount the events following his brother's death, including the interrogation of him and others. He recalled the sounds of people being tortured while he was waiting for his turn, before those voices disappeared. The witness got emotional, thus, the Presiding Judge announced a break, after which P8 went on to describe the interrogation that was conducted with him and the torture he was subjected to during it, including electric shocks.
The Judges moved on to another topic and asked P8 about the other doctor who was the accused's fellow and who came with M. to the cell. In their questioning, the Judges then highlighted other people: journalists, lawyers and others, and asked P8 if he knew about them. P8 was also shown pictures of people, some of whom he recognized.
Day 39 – October 20, 2022
The Judges continued questioning P8 and asked about the doctor, Alaa's fellow, who came with him to the cell, and then asked about other detainees in the cell. The Judges then proceeded to ask about the branches where P8 was held until his release. P8 teared up as he described how he was released: barefoot, penniless, and no one to ask for help. Therefore, the Judge offered him a short break. P8 then recounted how he was forced to leave his neighborhood and flee to another governorate because his neighborhood was bombed. He eventually left Syria.
The Judges then asked P8 detailed questions about a particular hearing that an international organization conducted with him and touched on some discrepancies between what he had said in that hearing and in court. The Presiding Judge asked the witness to take a short break to cool off because he wanted to talk about something with one of the Defense Counsels. After P8 left the courtroom, the Presiding Judge turned to Defense Counsel Al-Agi and reprimanded him for interrupting the witness and interjecting during the interpretation by the Court Interpreter. Al-Agi justified his reasoning by explaining that the interpreter used a specific translation of the month's name that the witness may not have understood correctly, so Al-Agi said the name of the month as the witness would know it. The Judge rebuked him, indicating that this conduct could be considered influencing the witness. The Judge demanded him to ask for permission next time so that the Judges could ask the witness to leave, at which point Al-Agi could clarify what he wanted to the court interpreter, who in turn could explain the situation to the witness. The Judge said that the Prosecutors could consider such conduct as leading the witness, and mentioned that the accused's interpreter sometimes corrects what the court's interpreter says, and therefore there is no need for Al-Agi to intervene. Al-Agi continued to argue that he just wanted the witness to get the question right. The president of the court reminded him that the trial was taking place in German with an Arabic translation, and asked him to take notes next time if he noticed something he is not pleased with, and he could later present it to the Judges.
A slip of paper was displayed on the screen showing the names of both doctors - M. and his fellow -, as well as their hometowns. The Judges then asked P8 how he got that slip of paper and when that information was written. The Judges went on to ask in-depth questions about media outlets that reached out to P8, such as Al-Jazeera, Der Spiegel, and Zaman Al-Wasl.
The Judges also questioned P8 about two injured detainees, one of whom P8 claimed was injured by M. as punishment for what he posted on his Facebook account. The questioning about these two detainees continued until the session was over. The Presiding Judge wanted to conclude the session by privately showing the witness pictures and asked him to describe what they depicted. P8 and the court interpreter approached the Judges’ bench and confirmed that one of the pictures was of his brother alive, another one of him post-mortem, and the document was a death certificate issued by the “criminal regime” claiming that his brother died as a result of epilepsy, and stipulating that it is prohibited for more than four to five people to be present during his burial.
The Judge thanked the witness for coming and expressed that the Judges understand how difficult it is for him, and that they would not have shown him those pictures had it not been an important matter. P8 said he would like to point out once again that he holds M. responsible if any harm befalls his family. P8 concluded by thanking the Judges and the Criminal Police for accompanying him to all sessions.
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