Caution: This blog post includes descriptions of torture.
After one year of pre-trial detention, the German Federal Prosecutor General filed the public indictment against Alaa M. at the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt on July 15, 2021 [GER only]. Once the court confirms the opening of the main trial within a few weeks’ time, the trial will be the second trial of a Syrian government affiliate to be held in Germany. It is another important step to hold perpetrators of all sides of the conflict accountable, particularly those affiliated with the Syrian government, which continues to be the single largest perpetrator of serious crimes in the conflict. Following the trial of Anwar Raslan and Eyad Al-Gharib, the trial of Alaa M. will further shed light on the systematic torture committed by the Syrian intelligence services as well as the role of medical professionals in this system of state-organized torture.
Who is Alaa M.?
In contrast to the first trial – the trial of Anwar Raslan and Eyad Al-Gahrib – the accused in this trial, Alaa M., did not hold a military rank within the intelligence services, but worked as a medical professional in Branch 261 of the Military Intelligence Service in Homs and as a Resident in the Military Hospital No. 608 in Homs and the Military Hospital No. 601 in Mezzeh, Damascus. According to the public indictment, he worked at these facilities from at least April 2011 until the end of 2012.
At the Military Hospital No. 608 in Homs Alaa M. allegedly:
- attempted forced sterilization on a 14-year-old boy at the ER by burning his genitals in summer 2011.
- in the same manner mistreated another man who was taken to the ER in July/August 2011.
- tortured at least nine detainees by beating and kicking them, beating their faces, stomachs, or genitals, with medical tools on several occasions. Alaa M. allegedly clamped the genitals of one of these detainees, hit an existing fracture of another one, and repaired a bone fracture of another of these detainees without sufficient anesthesia. All these incidents allegedly happened between April and November 2011.
- mistreated a detainee, together with other employees at the hospital, by hanging him from the ceiling by his hands and beating him with a plastic stick. This, and at least ten more torture sessions of this detainee in which Alaa M. allegedly participated, took place at the end of July/early August 2012. On one of the occasions, Alaa M. allegedly poured a flammable substance on the detainee’s hand and set it on fire.
- stepped on the septic wound of a detainee while wearing boots and causing the wound to bleed. Alaa M. then allegedly poured alcoholic sanitizer on the wound and set it on fire. He further allegedly kicked the person in the mouth, thereby damaging three teeth which later had to be replaced, beat the person leading to unconsciousness. These alleged incidents also happened in July/August 2012.
- beat and kicked several detainees in a cell several days after the previous incident. As one of the detainees was defending himself, Alaa M. with the help of a male nurse allegedly restrained this person and killed him with an injectable substance.
At Branch 261 of the Military Intelligence Service in Homs Alaa M. allegedly:
- severely beat a detainee in the face, beat him with a plastic tube, and kicked him in the face after Alaa M. was called as a medical professional due to the detainee having an epileptic seizure. He later administered a pill to the man, followed by his death. The cause of death could never be identified.
At the Military Hospital No. 601 in Mezzeh, Damascus, Alaa M. allegedly:
- between the end of 2011 and March 2012 arbitrarily hit detainees together with other employees. In at least three instances, Alaa M. allegedly beat and kicked people, one time using objects.
The public indictment further states that after Alaa M. left Syria and arrived in Germany in mid-2015, he practiced as a doctor. He was arrested at his place of residence in Germany in June 2020. Following an amended arrest warrant in December 2020, his pre-trial detention was extended and will last at least until the end of the upcoming trial.
Significance of the trial
The trial of Alaa M. is an important step toward justice and accountability for several reasons. First, it indicates that Germany is continuing to hold perpetrators from all sides of the conflict accountable. This sends an encouraging sign to other states that are currently investigating crimes committed by the Syrian government.
Second, the trial will examine in detail the role of certain medical professionals in directly participating and fostering the state-organized torture system in Syria. There were glimpses of the role of doctors and healthcare facilities during the Koblenz Trial. There the court has sought to assess the lack of medical care as part of the general detention conditions at Branch 251. In addition, the forensic analysis of the Caesar Files showed obvious signs of medical treatment and signs of torture on a single corpse. The forensic expert further confirmed that certain medical practices such as electric patches could also be used to torture a person. The trial of Alaa M. and in particular the testimonies of survivors and witnesses may elucidate how medical care was subverted by the Military Intelligence Service in Homs and Damascus and used to torture victims.
Third, the trial of Alaa M. will be a test for German authorities on whether they already adapted to some suggestions arising from the Koblenz Trial. It will be particularly interesting to see how the authorities will communicate with communities interested in the trial, including those who are Arabic speaking.
How will SJAC monitor the trial?
Following the successful cooperation in monitoring the Koblenz Trial, SJAC and the International Research and Documentation Centre for War Crimes Trials (ICWC), have partnered again to monitor the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt. 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 trained trial monitors attending and monitoring the trial. Given the highly specialized nature of the trial and German criminal procedure, the ICWC will oversee the training of the trial monitors. The ICWC will also provide expert consultation on German legal standards and procedures.
To ensure that essential factual and procedural developments are shared, SJAC will issue public Arabic and English language reports on a weekly basis, which will be shared on SJAC’s website. In addition, SJAC will host a bi-weekly podcast on Facebook live to cover the developments in court in Arabic language. Finally, SJAC will continue to conduct outreach to Syrian and international journalists to amplify messages regarding universal jurisdiction cases, and the trial of Alaa M. in particular.
As with the Koblenz Trial, SJAC in cooperation with the ICWC will further provide impartial and independent background information and critical examinations of the trial proceedings.