A German court has scheduled the first hearings in the ground-breaking trial of a former Syrian government official and his subordinate for acts of torture, the first criminal trial worldwide on state torture in Syria. The Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany has scheduled the trial of Anwar R. and Eyad A. to commence on April 23. While there is some debate as to the moral culpability of the accused, who defected from the Syrian Government early in the conflict, there is no doubt that the crimes for which they stand accused are extremely serious. The precedent is an important one, as Syrian government officials have largely escaped prosecution to this point. SJAC will be monitoring this trial via a local, trained court monitor, and publishing regular updates. Some things to watch out for are whether and to what extent the Accused will contest the charges against them. Will they testify and shed light upon the systems of abuse employed by the Syrian government or will they choose to remain silent? Will they claim that they were simply following orders (not a legal justification, but a strategy often employed in such trials)? Before the trial begins, SJAC is providing an overview of the case, including information on the two defendants who will appear in court in April.
The trial of Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib in Germany, will be the first ever for state-sponsored torture in Syria.
It's a key milestone in the long campaign for justice – it won't be the last https://t.co/S8vY67AUYH pic.twitter.com/RmEvWLtxn5
— kristyan benedict (@KreaseChan) January 1, 2020
Who is Anwar R.?
Anwar R. was born in 1963 in Taldu-Houla, in the countryside of Homs, to a Sunni family of farmers. He studied law and then volunteered with the police before he married and became a police officer. He was then transferred to the General Intelligence Service as a captain during the first decade of Bashar al-Assad’s government. He began working in 2005 as an investigator against Islamists, who were allegedly trained by Assad’s intelligence services to spread terrorism, as he stated in an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel (Gr. only).
In an interview (Ar. only) with a former detainee, the latter alleged that the colonel personally oversaw his torture and interrogation in Section 251 in 2007, when he was still a major or lieutenant colonel. Eight months later, the detainee was released only to be re-arrested by the branch headed by the colonel in 2010.
Anwar R. defected from the Assad government in December 2012. He first moved to Jordan, then to Turkey, where he joined the Syrian National Coalition and was appointed as the coalition’s security adviser. In February 2014, he participated in the Geneva II conference and was a delegate from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) Staff Command as a security/military adviser. German investigators claim that he defected because the opposition abducted his son-in-law and threatened the lives of his daughter and son. However, he claims that he defected because he did not want to kill Syrian civilians.
The indictment of the defendant, according to the Koblenz court website (Gr. only), includes the allegation that the accused is responsible for the torture of at least 4,000 people in the intelligence prison of Al-Khatib in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Anwar R. is said to have had a leading role in these crimes, in which at least 58 prisoners were killed as a result. The defendant also faces charges of rape and aggravated sexual assault.
Who is Eyad A.?
Eyad A. is 43 years old from Al-Muhassan, Deir ez-Zor. Some rebels from Deir ez-Zor have defended him and claimed that he wanted to defect earlier and had helped protesters. This defense could be attributed to “kinship and local solidarity” as one source stated (Ar. only).
In 2010, he began his work at the State Security department (Branch 251), which was responsible for tracking down opponents and Islamists and preventing terrorist attacks. In 2011, he was appointed as the leader of a group under the administration of Branch 251 that was responsible for attacking and arresting protesters. It is claimed that his group used to arrest around 100 people in Duma on a daily basis and that once Eyad A. and his group chased protesters there, arrested them all and brought them to Branch 251, where Anwar R. was the head of the investigation unit.
The defendant defected from the government in early 2012 and left Syria in February 2013, eventually arriving in Germany on 25 April 2018. He was arrested in February 2019 in Zweibrücken, Rhineland-Palatinate. Eyad A. was temporarily released from custody in May 2019. Since the beginning of June 2019, he has been held in pretrial detention.
The defendant faces charges of arresting protesters and extraditing them to Branch 251, in addition to his role in abducting and torturing at least 30 detainees in the period from 1 September 2011 to 31 October 2011, according to Koblenz court website (Gr. only).
How will SJAC monitor the trial?
SJAC and the International Research and Documentation Centre for War Crimes Trials (ICWC), have partnered to monitor the trial. Both groups are seeking to engage and inform the general public, including Syrians, Germans, as well as the international community, about the progress, prospects, and limitations of universal jurisdiction trials for atrocity crimes committed in Syria. SJAC will have a trained team member attending and monitoring the trials. Given the highly specialized nature of the trial and German criminal procedure, the ICWC will oversee the training of the trial monitor and provide additional trial monitors for key aspects of the trial. The ICWC will also provide expert consultation on German legal standards and procedures.
To ensure that essential factual and procedural developments are shared, this monitor will issue public Arabic and English language reports on a weekly basis, which will be shared on SJAC’s website. The monitor will also conduct outreach to Syrian and international journalists to amplify messages regarding universal jurisdiction cases.
You can follow SJAC’s trial updates via Facebook, Twitter, or SJAC’s weekly newsletter.