Inside the Alaa M. Trial #31: To be(at), or not to be(at): that is the question!
Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany
Trial Monitoring Summary #31
Hearing Dates: January 10 and 12, 2023
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 31sttrial monitoring report details days 49 & 50 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. This first trial day of the year was dedicated to the questioning of P11 who had already testified in December. The Judges examined discrepancies that arose from his prior statements as well as P8's testimony concerning critical details of the events that allegedly occurred during their detention. While the Court repeatedly communicated to the witness why they were asking the detailed questions and that they were obliged to examine any inconsistencies, it appeared that P11 seemed irritated and had difficulties replying accurately. A major issue circled around the question of whether P11’s cousin was beaten, when, and how many times.
The second day was dedicated to finalizing the Judges' questioning of P11. While the Judges estimated the trial day would finish early, many topics invoked further examination. The Judges intended to clarify certain details related to the incidents in and the final departure from Syria. Moreover, the Judges cross-examined with whom P11 had contact and potentially spoke to in relation to the trial content in order to obtain information on the likelihood of this influencing the witness. One critical moment emerged when the Judges showed P11 a photo array of three men, including M., and asked whether he had seen the array previously. P11 affirmed and said they were shown to him during a previous questioning. The Judges, however, informed him that was not the case.
Day 49 – January 10, 2023
Due to the re-traumatization of the witness before the Christmas break [See TR #29], the Judges started the first session of the year by assuring that P11 was well. They further informed him that the Court was obliged to ask detailed questions and that they were aware that invoking these memories may be painful. The Judges then resumed the questioning and wanted to know the circumstances of how P11 obtained the names and birthplaces of the doctors he discussed previously. Moreover, the Judges confronted P11 with his prior statements whenever discrepancies arose. Similarly, he was confronted with relevant sections from P8’s testimony. The Judges were particularly interested in when and how certain information was obtained and if the two witnesses (P8 and P11) had contact after leaving Syria. The witness was unable to clear all discrepancies, despite the Judges’ repeated assistance by providing potential explanations.
Since the Defendant claimed a case of mistaken identity, the Judges asked the witness whether he had any information supporting this allegation. For instance, they asked whether revenge for the death of their cousin was considered. Moreover, all potential contacts were evaluated in detail since P11 was approached by several persons, including the media. P11 assured the judges that in most of the cases, he refused to communicate with them after the trial had started. The Judges also showed him photos of persons whom he could not identify.
The next hours of the session were dedicated to finding out when and how many times P11’s cousin was beaten before his death. Inconsistencies with previous statements and his testimony could not be resolved satisfactorily. The Judges became frustrated because P11 either contradicted himself or did not respond to the questions directly. Ultimately, the Presiding Judge formulated his questions sharply and requested precise answers on whether and how many times the beatings occurred. Moreover, the Judges provided P11 with potential explanations for the discrepancies again, but P11 was unable to entirely eliminate uncertainties. A break had to be issued to provide relief for the agitated parties.
After an easing break, the Judges resumed the questioning by turning to a different topic. They were interested in an acquaintance who was allegedly detained with P11 and asked for details concerning their interaction. Once again, inconsistencies arose which the witness could not resolve. However, it became clear that the witness was unable to fully understand that discrepancies may also arise from translation errors or misunderstandings although the Judges continuously informed him about the different possibilities. Consequently, the last part of the session resulted in similar issues when the Judges wanted to know the circumstances of identifying the body of his cousin.
Nonetheless, the witness gave a vivid impression of the dehumanizing treatment of deceased detainees. The witness also had to identify his cousin in a photograph. It was not shown to the public, presumably because it showed the deceased in a defaced manner.
Day 50 – January 12, 2023
The Judges continued the questioning of P11 and planned to finalize it on this day so the Prosecutor and the Defense Team could proceed with their questions the following day. The witness was asked to bring his mobile phone and some photographs were inspected. On the one hand, the Judges were interested if the witness had additional photos of his deceased cousin. On the other hand, private photographs assisted in confirming the timing of certain information that P11 could not remember.
Subsequently, the Judges re-engaged with the events in Syria. The witness was asked about the circumstances of his release from the Military Police. Again, discrepancies arose related to the date of the release, however, the witness was able to eliminate concerns fully by giving coherent and reasonable explanations. Nevertheless, it appeared that P11 felt misunderstood and explained that he was not familiar with the method the Judges applied. When asked whether he faced a trial in Syria, P11 explained the differences between several branches and places which he mentioned during his testimony. The Judges wanted to know if he had to appear before a judge in Syria and who was with him. They further asked P11 which road they took following the release and whether there were roadblocks or checkpoints. The witness offered to draw a sketch on which he marked all the relevant places and elaborated on the locations, distances, and events that took place in relation to the area he drew. The Defense Team also raised questions and some of them led to a discussion about whether they should be admitted. The Prosecution wanted to know which conclusion the Defense aimed at drawing from the answer and objected to the admission. However, the Judges let the Defense proceed as long as the questions were sufficiently specific. One of the Defense Counsels gave the impression that he did not follow the events, since he repeatedly asked where exactly the witness was detained. For the rest of the parties, it was clear, that P11 was detained in several different locations.
The Presiding Judge further recalled that additional events happened between the release and the departure from Syria. The remaining time of the session was dedicated to them and the witness gave testimony about additional painful experiences. One of them concerned the death of his four-year-old son who died shortly after the witness’ release from detention because they were not allowed to pass a checkpoint and find immediate aid in a hospital. The Judges acknowledged that this may be part of the functioning of the regime and expressed their condolences. The witness then elaborated on a second course of events that led to detainment and torture by the Syrian regime. He recalled that the most severe beating took place at the Military Intelligence Service and in Branch 215 before he could finally leave the country. He reached the neighboring country on a hospital stretcher.
[The account of the witness carried a sense of the brutality and arbitrariness of the regime through the courtroom.] Since the latter events did not directly relate to the indictment, the Judges interrupted the questioning of the details of the second torture and acknowledged the suffering the witness had to endure.
The last part of the session was dedicated to finding out whom the witness had contact with after the start of the proceedings as well as clarifying any health-related issues. P11 affirmed that he was approached by several media channels, but also a person affiliated with the Syrian Embassy. The Judges were meticulous about any potential influence and asked detailed questions about persons and newspapers who contacted P11, reports on Facebook, Zaman Al-Wasl, and other organizations concerning the proceedings. The Judges were particularly interested if P11 and P8 spoke to each other related to the content of the trial. One critical moment emerged when the Judges wanted to find out if P11 had seen photographs of the Accused before the testimony. While the media extensively covered the prosecution of Alaa M. and photos circulated on Facebook, P11 erred about additional photographs. They were presented to him in court and P11 affirmed having seen one of them which according to the Judges was not possible. The Presiding Judge acknowledged that the Defense will most likely return to this issue. When asked if any other person contacted him or his family, the witness explained to the Court that his sister in Syria was threatened by the Military Intelligence Service which told her that her brothers were not safe wherever they go.
Before ending the Judges’ questioning and dismissing the witness, P11 was asked about his health conditions. The torture in Syria but also the recently suffered stroke resulted in severe health issues and memory loss. Presumably, the Judges aimed at determining whether long-term bodily damage was causally connected to the ill-treatment. The witness said that the severe beating during his second detainment caused today’s walking impediment. It was discussed whether the doctors who treated him after his stroke should be consulted.
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