Inside the Raslan Trial: The Al-Gharib Verdict in Detail

Inside the Raslan Trial: The Al-Gharib Verdict in Detail

Illustration by Rachel Ma

TRIAL OF ANWAR RASLAN and EYAD AL GHARIB

Higher Regional Court – Koblenz, Germany

Trial Monitoring Report 28

Hearing Date: February 24, 2021

A full PDF of this report is available, here.

All reports and witness lists are available, here.

 

CAUTION: Some testimony includes descriptions of torture.

 

Summaries/Highlights:[1]

Trial Day 62 – February 24, 2021

After severing the trial against Al-Gharib the previous week, the judges issued their verdict in the case. The judges found Eyad Al-Gharib guilty of aiding and abetting torture and severe deprivation of liberty as crimes against humanity. They detailed that he was involved in the arrest of at least 30 people and their transfer to Branch 251 in September or October 2011. According to the judges, he had several reasonable options to escape the situation, instead of staying and contributing to these crimes. It was found that he did not establish a defense of duress. After weighing in on aggravating and mitigating factors based on the totality of evidence (namely his self-incriminating interview with the German asylum authority), the judges sentenced Al-Gharib to 4.5 years imprisonment upholding his arrest warrant.

While the prosecutors declared they would not seek to appeal the verdict, the defense indicated that they would take applicable legal steps against the judgment.

Day 62 of Trial – February 24, 2021

The hearing began at 9:30 with 25 media representatives and 29 spectators present.

The Court issued the following verdict:

[THIS IS NOT THE OFFICIAL VERDICT. It is a detailed summary of the oral hearing in which the verdict was announced]

In the name of the people, the following judgment is delivered: The defendant Eyad Al-Gharib is found guilty of aiding and abetting torture and severe deprivation of liberty as crimes against humanity, in accordance with §7(1) Nos 5 and 9 VStGB. The defendant is sentenced to 4 years and 6 months imprisonment.

After reading out the verdict, Presiding Judge Kerber announced that there will be consecutive Arabic translation for the entire session, transmitted through the loudspeakers in the courtroom. She therefore read out the verdict again, to allow the translator to translate it for the audience.

Presiding Judge Kerber went on to read out the reasoning:

[Note: the following is no exact duplicate of the judges’ reasoning which was read out in court. It is based on what our trial monitors were able to hear in court]

Reasoning:

First, Presiding Judge Kerber on behalf of the judges mentioned that defendant Al-Gharib did not make an oral statement in court. She added that upon advice of his defense counsel, the defendant submitted a handwritten statement.

Judge Kerber went on to first provide details regarding the defendant: Eyad Al-Gharib was born on May 25, 1976 in Damascus. He is a Sunni and grew up in the governorate of Deir ez-Zor where he attended school, which he left without a degree after the 12th grade. From 1994 until 1996, he was living in Damascus with his uncle and two brothers. In 1996, he joined the General Intelligence Directorate in Najha, where he undertook a two-year long training. This training also included training on carrying and using arms. After that, he completed another training to become an instructor. The defendant worked for the General Intelligence Directorate from July 10, 1996 until January 15, 2012. From the end of 1997, he was working as an instructor. Kerber said that according to his own statements, he was very good at his job. He mainly worked as a physical instructor. Kerber again referred to a quote from the defendant who said that “one has to force people to endure more”. Kerber went on to explain that in 2004/05 the defendant received counter-terrorism training, adding that he was further trained to detect and create ambushes, abduct people, arrest people and work as a bodyguard. He was mainly focusing on street fights and storming. In February 2010, Al-Gharib started working at Branch 251 in Damascus as a warrant officer [Oberstabsfeldwebel][2]. In this capacity, he worked in the “religion” division, overseeing four districts in Damascus regarding surveillance of mosques and imams. He had to report to his superior, Kamal Al-Ahmad. Following this work, he was transferred to Az-Zabadani in summer 2011. The judges further found that he did not like the office work there and accepted an offer from his previous boss to return to operative work. Al-Gharib first worked at the “religion division” of Branch 251 for one or two months, before he was transferred to Division 40 in July 2011, where he stayed until January 2012.

At this time, he went to Deir ez-Zor without his wife and children, the Intelligence Services were looking for him and interrogated his wife. According to the judges’ findings, the Intelligence Services, nonetheless, could not prevent Al-Gharib’s family from fleeing. His family later joined him using the ID card of his wife’s cousin. It was not clear to the judges, when exactly Al-Gharib left Syria. According to his own statements, he entered Turkey in February 2013. The judges, however, only knew for sure that he came to Germany via Greece on February 25, 2018. Al-Gharib came to Germany via the ‘family reunification program’. He first sent his 16-year-old son [to Germany], whom he consequently followed in February 2018. Judge Kerber summarized that meanwhile, Al-Gharib would have six children and receives a guaranteed minimum pension in Germany. He has a residence permit, allowing him to stay in Germany while his asylum procedure is pending.

Regarding his criminal record, the judges found that Al-Gharib had an entry to the criminal register regarding one instance of bodily injury. On May 25, 2018, at his place of residence in Hermeskeil, following a fight between his son and another child, he hit the other child in the face. He was sentenced to pay 20 daily rates [5€ per day, 100€ in total], which he paid.

Regarding the present trial, Judge Kerber recalled that Al-Gharib was arrested on February 12, 2019 and brought into pre-trial detention, he was released on May 17, 2019 and following an order from the German Federal Court of Justice dated June 6, 2019, again taken into pre-trial detention on August 15, 2019. Al-Gharib has been in pre-trial and trial detention since that day.

Evaluation of evidence:

On behalf of the judges, Presiding Judge Kerber provided some short statements regarding the evaluation of evidence in this trial. She explained that this trial was mainly based on the defendant’s own statements he made with the German asylum authority (BAMF) and his statements with the German Federal Criminal Police (BKA) dated August 16, 2018. In its decision dated June 6, 2019, the German Federal Court of Justice addressed the question regarding admissibility of Al-Gharib’s statements with the BKA. The Court affirmed the admissibility of the statement, even detailing the page number and paragraph: page 13, first paragraph. Kerber further recalled that during the main trial, the judges did not obtain any additional statements from the defendant.

Situation in Syria:

Presiding Judge Kerber first mentioned that the political situation in Syria was of significant importance for this trial. It would therefore be necessary to also address the events prior to Bashar Al-Assad’s reign.

Kerber started by recalling the variety of religious groups in Syria. She said that prior to 2011, around 60-70% of the people were Sunni. Before the start of the conflict around 11% of the people were Alawites. The rest of the population consisted of different minorities such as Druze, Yazidi and Christian. Following Syria’s independence, the military was the only opportunity of advancement for Alawites. They consequently represented the majority of members of the army.

Kerber further mentioned that following a coup by the Ba’ath party in the 1960s and another one in 1970 Hafez Al-Assad gained power. In 1973, the constitution was amended, declaring the Ba’ath party as the party of the state. Kerber stressed that it was not possible for people to oppose the Al-Assad and Makhlouf families. One of their central means of retaining power was the Intelligence Services. According to the judges, the Intelligence Services infused the entire society and created an atmosphere of mistrust and fear. The state of emergency, which was in place since 1963, made it easy to arbitrarily arrest people, and detain them in prisons of the Intelligence Services. Despite the fact that torture was prohibited by the Constitution, there were no hurdles, already at that time, to torturing people.

Kerber went on by saying that Hafez Al-Assad further used the military, in cases where the Intelligence Services were “insufficient”. Kerber added that this became prominent at the Hama massacre in 1982, when the city of Hama was bombed, thousands of civilians died, and resistance against the government was blighted. After Hafez Al-Assad’s death, his son Bashar Al-Assad took over in 2000.

Kerber recalled the first months of Bashar Al-Assad being in office – this period is also known as Damascus Spring – when one could recognize some changes. Kerber added that political prisoners were released, and independent newspapers were founded. However, in Summer 2001, Bashar Al-Assad returned to his father’s policy. Political freedoms were restricted again and in September 2001, many people were arrested. Kerber further referred to the war in Iraq which caused unrest in the region and led to a convergence of Syria towards Iran. However, Bashar Al-Assad renewed and normalized Syria’s external relations.

Regarding the Arab spring, Kerber mentioned that it raised hopes amongst Syrians to gain more freedom. People started aligning via internet and organized demonstrations. Judge Kerber further recalled that at first, the government did not react much to the protests. However, the situation escalated in March 2011. Teenagers in Dar’a spray-painted slogans on a wall. They were consequently arrested by the Military Intelligence Directorate and the so-called Mukhabarat. Although they were released relatively soon, their bodies showed clear signs of torture. This caused many demonstrations throughout Syria. On March 15, 2011, people protested in Damascus. Three days later, on March 18, people gathered to protest in Dar’a after the midday prayers. Security forces intervened and at least one or two people died. No reforms were announced after these instances. Instead, the presence of security forces in Dar’a were increased, claiming that they were on the side of the protestors. Judge Kerber referred to the events of March 23, 2011, when again shots were fired at demonstrators and mosques, causing many deaths. Protests meanwhile included thousands of people. On April 1, 2011, there were the first dead demonstrators in Damascus and rural Damascus. At least four people died at a demonstration in Duma, following the use of live ammunition by government forces. Some of the protestors threw stones at government forces, however, none of them carried firearms at that time. Judge Kerber concluded that most of the demonstrations were peaceful at the beginning. People for example carried palm leaves to show that they were peaceful.

Presiding Judge Kerber went on to explain that in order to handle these dynamics, the Central Crisis Management Cell (CCMC) was established in March 2011. The judges found that this was the place where the strategy and next steps of the security forces were discussed. It was headed by Bashar Al-Assad. Its members included the heads of the National Security Office, Military Intelligence Directorate, Air Force Directorate, Political Security and the General Intelligence Service, as well as the Ministers of Interior and Defense. The judges also found that from April 2011 on, the CCMC decided on how to deal with the opposition. In a letter to the armed forces and the Intelligence Services dated April 18, 2011, the CCMC stated that ‘the phase of tolerance and cooperation is over’. It further provided details on how to deal with protestors: no releases of detainees, demonstrations are to be handled by the police, which is to be supported by the Intelligence Services in emergencies. According to the judges, the CCMC further said that ‘those raising arms against the state, shall be opposed by the use of armed violence’. Following a meeting of the CCMC on April 20, 2011, those measures were further tightened. Citing the CCMC: “it is necessary to start another phase. We have to win this battle by the use of armed violence” and “detailed plans need to be prepared to confront unarmed and armed protests: specifically in Dar’a, Damascus and surrounding area, and Homs.” These plans were to be designed not only by the Intelligence Services, but also by the army; based on the scenario that unrest spread throughout the entire country. Judge Kerber concluded that this was the time when the number of civilian victims significantly increased.

Kerber went on to detail the events starting on April 23, 2011, when people died at a demonstration by the use of water guns, live ammunition and tear gas. On April 25, the Syrian army stormed Damascus with the help of tanks and snipers. According to the judges, the following blockade lasted until April 29, causing up to 200 deaths by the security forces. When thousands of people in Dar’a protested against the lack of water and food supplies, they were shot with live ammunition, causing many deaths. Similar incidents occurred in other places as well at the same time. Kerber referred to an instance in Duma, where people were shot during a raid and many were arrested due to massive violence. In May 2011, the EU and U.S started sanctioning the Syrian government. Nonetheless, the number of wanted persons and arrests in Syria increased. Militias, mostly the government affiliated Shabiha, increasingly appeared at demonstrations.

The judges further found that around July 2011, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was founded to allegedly protect the people from the government. Parts of the FSA consisted of defected soldiers, who formerly worked for the Syrian Army. The judges found that soldiers who disobeyed orders were shot. Presiding Judge Kerber recalled the escalation of the conflict, detailing that Hama was stormed at the end of July 2011 and many civilians were killed during this instance. Kerber added that the conflict further escalated in August 2011. After a meeting on August 5, 2011, the CCMC condemned the security forces’ “lax” response to the demonstrations. In the same letter, the CCMC told the National Security Office that daily raids shall be conducted by the military and the Intelligence Services. All supporters of the protests shall be found and transferred to the Intelligence Services. Demonstrations shall be crushed. Daily reports shall be sent to the head of the National Security Office. The judges found that in Fall 2011, further meetings and discussions followed. The smashing of peaceful demonstrations became increasingly violent. As an example for a military action against demonstrations, Judge Kerber mentioned an incident in Duma, where electricity, water and internet supplies were cut. At the end of September 2011, the city was encircled by the military.

Kerber concluded by saying that from mid-October 2011, the Arab League tried to mediate. The regime made certain suggestions, for example releasing 3,500 detainees, withdrawing tanks and allowing the League and the media to cover the situation in Syria.

Actions by the regime

The judges briefly shed light on the actions taken by the regime in this context. Presiding Judge Kerber mentioned that the regime tried to create the outward image of terror attacks taking place in Syria. They therefore “palmed arms off on the demonstrators” to have an excuse for their violent actions. Members of the Intelligence Services were taken to hospitals, pretending to be injured. Media representatives were then allowed to interview these allegedly injured people. When the Arab League visited Branch 251, all detainees were transferred, and guards pretended to be the detainees. Despite efforts by the League, violence continued in 2012.

Judge Kerber provided several examples: In February 2012, one person was shot at a demonstration in Al-Mazzeh, dozens were arrested. In the same month, Homs was attacked with rocket shells several times. At the beginning of March 2012, people were massacred in Homs. Children and adults were killed by government troops and militias. The judges found however, that the government continued to claim that it was only countering terror attacks. Kerber explained that these elaborations and recreation of events were significantly based on the expert testimonies of Ms. Thurmann, Christopher Engels from CIJA, who also submitted the above-mentioned CCMC documents to the court, and Christoph Reuter. The judges paid special gratitude to the experts Mazen Darwish and Anwar Al-Bunni.

Role of the Intelligence Services

According to the judges, the so-called Mukhabarat played an integral part in quelling the uprising. They were a crucial element in retaining power, already for Hafez Al-Assad. The judges found that there are five organizations of the Intelligence Services in Syria: the Office of National Security , which is the coordinating agency, the Military Intelligence Directorate, the Air-Force Intelligence Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate and the  National Security Council.[3] The latter four are central, [4] with Branches in Damascus and regional Branches. According to the judges, depending on their mandate, the Branches had their own detention facilities, where people were already tortured when Hafez Al-Assad was in power. Torture methods included: arbitrary beatings using cables and sticks, Doulab and Shabh. Judge Kerber explained that Bashar Al-Assad adopted these structures and used them to intimidate and exterminate the opposition, particularly in 2011. Means to achieve this started in March 2011 including arbitrary detention, torture and arrests. Kerber added that in the course of the uprising, the number of detainees and dead people increased steadily. While the goal of arrests was previously to gain information, starting in 2012 at the latest, the main goal was to intimidate and exterminate the opposition.

The judges found that the conditions in the detention facilities continued to worsen. People not only had to endure torture, but starved and suffocated. The hygienic situation was catastrophic. Sicknesses and injuries from torture got worse and medical treatment was only provided at an extremely basic level, if at all. The judges recalled witnesses describing that pills were simply thrown inside the cell. According to the judges, people were so afraid of being transferred to a hospital that they tried to hide their health issues. It was particularly known that instead of receiving medical treatment, people were tortured and murdered in military hospitals like Tishreen, Al-Mazzeh and Harasta.

Presiding Judge Kerber went on to explain that the corpses of those who died while detained by the Intelligence Services were collected at hospitals. Shortly after the start of the uprising, military photographers were tasked with documenting the corpses. They had to take pictures of the corpses which were labeled with numbers. According to the judges, this practice was to ensure that there was proof that these people were not actually released. The number of people who died with the Intelligence Services was significantly increasing over time. The judges referred to reports of mass graves being dug in Najha [cemetery] in October 2011. These graves were 6m deep, 2-4m wide and 100-200m long. Similar reports exist for Al-Qutayfa [cemetery]. Refrigerated trucks carried the corpses, their numbers were documented on arrival at the mass graves, and they were then hastily buried.

Judge Kerber added that relatives of the detainees were never informed about the whereabouts and fate of their loved ones. If only, they were able to get information or sometimes even a release by using bribery or using their good relations with certain people.

Evaluation of evidence:

Judge Kerber mentioned that throughout the trial, the court heard several witnesses. She further added that Le Casine’s testimony was particularly important, as she communicated information provided by Caesar and Sami. Sami’s testimony was further introduced by the criminal inspector who interviewed him previously. The so-called Caesar Files included 26,935 photos of 6,821 people. They were also analyzed by Prof. Dr. Rothschild who presented his impressive forensic analysis in court. Presiding Judge Kerber stated: “I would like to make a personal statement about these files: I will never ever forget these photos.”

Regarding Branch 251:

Judge Kerber started by saying that the Branch “perfectly fits within the overall picture of Intelligence Services’ Branches.” She mentioned that Branch 251 is also called the ‘Inner Branch’ or ‘Al-Khatib’, Adding that it would be a Branch of the General Intelligence Directorate and was initially tasked with the general surveillance of the police, the general population, and the [Ba’ath] party. The judges found that Branch 251 was led by Tawfiq Younes توفيق يونس, the overall in charge of inner security. Regarding the location and facilities of the Branch, the judges found: The Branch is located at Baghdad Street in Damascus, close to the Red Crescent Hospital. The Branch consists of two buildings, opposite each other with a courtyard between them. In the basement of at least one of the buildings there is the prison for Branch 251. This prison has solitary and collective cells as well as interrogation rooms. Additional interrogation rooms are located on higher levels as well. Females as well as males are detained at the Branch, however, separated from each other.

Kerber went on to explain that whenever there was a demonstration, larger groups of new detainees arrived at Branch 251. They were forced to leave the buses in the yard of the Branch. Already at this point they received what was cynically called a “welcoming party”. According to the judges, this means that at the moment they departed the buses, guards started beating them with fists or certain objects like sticks, poles or batons. These beatings were so violent that some witnesses told the court about people suffering broken ribs. Detainees were kicked and their heads were smashed against walls, causing some to fall unconscious for hours. New detainees sometimes had to wait in the yard for hours before they were taken to an office where they had to strip naked and leave their personal belongings. To frisk detainees, they had to squat in order to ensure that they did not hide any objects. After that, they were allowed to dress again, at least to a certain degree, and taken to their cell.

The judges also found that solitary cells measuring 1x2m were occupied with several detainees. The conditions in all cells were catastrophic. All of them were so overcrowded, that people were only able to sit or lay down in shifts. Judge Kerber recalled that it was only possible to lay down and sleep if people crossed their legs, a practice that even had its own name [The name was, however, not mentioned at this point]. In cells equipped with a toilet, the toilet was usually not separated from the cell. If it was separate, it was only done by hanging a curtain, so overall, it was never sufficiently separate from the rest of the cell. The toilet was used by a high number of detainees. Judge Kerber further summarized that in cells that were not equipped with a toilet, detainees were only allowed to use the toilet outside the cell one or two times per day. Drinking water was only available from the tap close to the toilets. Due to the restricted access to use the sanitary area, regarding times per day and time per use, people were usually never able to wash or even shower. In most cases, there was no daylight inside the cells. It was either completely dark or the light was on non-stop. In both cases, detainees were not able to tell what time it was. According to the judges, the insufficient hygienic condition caused many skin conditions which were not treated. Medical treatment was factually not available. Judge Kerber said the air inside the cells was “miserable” and the nutrition was insufficient. The food rations were merely sufficient for people to barely stay alive. Detainees could hear screams and the sound of torture in their cells, day and night. They were also not informed about the duration of their imprisonment and whether they would make it out alive at all.

Regarding interrogations, Judge Kerber detailed that they usually took place with one interrogation officer and at least one guard present. She added that the people who were being interrogated were constantly mistreated. Either because the officer did not like the answer, before they answered or because they answered at all. The judges found there were orders to mistreat the person, but the guards also mistreated them without receiving specific orders. At Branch 251, detainees usually had to endure electroshocks and beatings with cables and poles. The Falaqa method was used particularly frequent. Detainees further had to endure Doulab and Shabh. The latter was not only used to hang people from the ceiling, but also to beat them while in this position. Judge Kerber recalled witnesses further testifying that they received threats against their family.

Regarding the defendant’s role, the judges found that Eyad Al-Gharib worked at this Branch since 2010. Kerber detailed that he first worked at the “religion” division, and then at the office in Az-Zabadani, before he joined Division 40 in July 2011. Division 40 was formally subordinate to Branch 251. However, due to the fact that it was led by Hafez Makhlouf, a cousin of Bashar Al-Assad, the Division enjoyed considerable independence. According to the judges, members of Division 40 acted as a rapid intervention force, and usually worked in the field, arresting people at demonstrations and checkpoints and conducting raids. Kerber mentioned that the defendant himself called Division 40 a “mafiosi-like alliance”.

Offences:

The judges were further satisfied that during his work at Branch 251, the conditions there as well as the acts inside did not remain hidden from the defendant. He especially knew about torture. Kerber recalled him telling the German Federal Criminal Police that one was able to hear the screams of torture at the cafeteria of the Branch.

Detailing the offences that Al-Gharib was charged with, Judge Kerber first explained that at a demonstration at a mosque in Duma in September or October 2011, around 3,000 – 6,000 protestors demonstrated peacefully, sitting and dancing on the streets. Around 1,000 security forces were ordered to confront the demonstration. Among these forces were members of the Air Force Intelligence, the Ministry of Interior, several members of Branch 251, the military and around 250 people from Division 40. Kerber went on to explain that at least the members of Division 40 were ordered to shoot at people. Hafez Makhlouf himself took the opportunity to take shots and order that ‘everyone who loves the president shall shoot the traitors’. According to the judges, Hafez Makhlouf arrived at the demonstration in his Mercedes Benz, insulted the demonstrators and opened fire with his machine gun. He hit at least five people who remained on the ground and 6-7 other people started shooting as well. However, the judges found that the defendant did not shoot and instead tried to step back. When demonstrators tried to flee, the security forces, among them Al-Gharib, followed them and arrested many. The judges were satisfied that at least two vans took people from Duma to Branch 251. Many of the arrested people were beaten on the ride and, once they arrived at Branch 251, they had to endure the so-called “welcoming party” on their way from the yard to the building. All detainees were severely beaten and hit with metal poles.

The judges were not able to determine whether Al-Gharib himself beat any of the detainees. The number of people and cases of torture in which Al-Gharib consequently participated was determined in favor of the defendant. As Al-Gharib mentioned “buses”, the judges found that there were two buses [of detained persons]. Particularly after Friday prayers, people were taken to Branch 251 in buses. Judge Kerber recalled witness P5 telling the court that that there was space for around 15-20 people on these buses, however, they were usually overcrowded. In favor of the defendant, the judges found that there were 15 people in each van. All of them were tortured and had to suffer physical pain during their detention. All of them had to endure the “welcoming party” and suffer the indescribable detention conditions. They all had to hear the constant screams and sounds of torture. All of them were left in complete uncertainty regarding whether they would be able to get out alive.

Judge Kerber further explained that as a member of the Intelligence Service whose tasks were to suppress demonstrations, Al-Gharib knew about the widespread and systematic attack of the Syrian government. He was further aware of detainees being transferred to Branch 251 and the cruel treatment they had to suffer there. Kerber added that as a year-long employee of Branch 251, Al-Gharib knew about the torture practices and the fate of the detainees. He was working at Branch 251 since February 2010, and ever since then had entered and left the building regularly and heard the screams that one could hear even at the cafeteria, as he himself explained. Overall, the judges found that he not only knew about people being tortured starting in March 2011, but he also even knew about changes that took place since March 2011. Kerber recalled Al-Gharib saying that “the punishment increased, and the guards just did whatever they wanted”.

Legal assessment:

Defendant Al-Gharib was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity. The judges were satisfied that the requirements for a widespread and systematic attack were met at least since the end of March 2011. As part of this attack, Al-Gahrib aided and abetted torture (§7(1) 5 VStGB) and severe deprivation of liberty (§7(1) 9 VStGB) in 30 cases. A defense of duress according to §35 StGB is not applicable.

While draconian punishment was possible in cases of disobedience, the judges could not say with certainty whether Al-Gharib indeed thought about leaving or involuntarily stayed due to possible consequences. Presiding Judge Kerber mentioned that Al-Gharib did not make any statements on these points.

According to the judges, it was also not the case that he would have had no chance to leave at all. In light of 250 members of Division being present at this particular demonstration, is the judges found it questionable whether it would have been detected at all had Al-Gharib left the scene. The judges further found that he could have pretended to be injured by tripping or pretended to have a sprained an ankle. He also could have faked a sickness prior to the operation. [As he did not show the defense of duress] Presiding Judge Kerber concluded that Al-Gharib therefore culpably committed an illegal act.

Sentence:

Stressing that Al-Gharib was not on trial for the atrocities committed by the regime, Judge Kerber explained that he was only accused of acts directly attributable to him and for his contribution to these acts. In light of this, the judges made the following determinations regarding the duration of sentence in his case:

In accordance with §7(1) VStGB one shall receive a sentence of no less than five years imprisonment for violations of §7(1) No.5 VStGB (torture) and no less than two years imprisonment for violations of §7(1) No.9 VStGB (severe deprivation of liberty). Kerber explained that in light of the main offence relating to aiding and abetting torture according to §7(1) No.5 VStGB, the sentence shall initially be between 5 and 15 years imprisonment. In light of the overall circumstances and number of people, the sentence would in a next step be amended to 2 to 15 years imprisonment, in accordance with §7(2) VStGB. Judger Kerber explained that this amendment in favor of the defendant was due to the following factors:

  • Al-Gharib incriminated himself with the BAMF as well as with the BKA and his verdict is significantly based on these statements.
  • At the time the offences were committed, he was integrated in a hierarchical structure where he was under certain pressure to act.
  • After a relatively early defection in January 2012 – the judges could not find otherwise – he turned his back on the regime.
  • At the time the offences were committed, he had no criminal record, as far as this could be determined.

Kerber went on to explain that these factors alone were not sufficient to lower the maximum sentence, assuming a less grave incident. However, the fact that he only aided and abetted the crimes was sufficient reason to lower the sentence as mentioned above. The judges referred to §49 StGB, providing that the highest sentence possible in such cases is set at 11 years and 3 months imprisonment.

Kerber said a further amendment of the sentence was required according to §46b StGB. She explained that while the defendant did not make any statements during the main trial, he indeed contributed to the discovery of [other] crimes in his questioning with the BKA. During this questioning, he elaborated on the actions of Anwar Raslan and in particular on the fact that he witnessed how people were beaten with metal poles at Branch 251 and beaten to death. He also stated that he witnessed five or six transports of around ten corpses from Branch 251 that happened in 2011. Kerber recalled that these instances are also included in the indictment against Anwar Raslan and could have not been proven and attributed to Anwar Raslan without Al-Gharib. For the above-mentioned reasons, the margin of sentence was set at 6 months to 11 years and 3 months imprisonment. In determining this margin, the above-mentioned aspect in favor of the defendant as well as the fact that he aided and abetted the crimes and contributed to the discovery of crimes, were taken into account. Kerber again stressed that without Al-Gharib’s own statements, there would not have been a verdict.

The judges considered the following aggravating factors in Al-Gharib’s case:

  • He voluntarily worked for a repressive apparatus and voluntarily returned from an office job to the operative business.
  • The number of people [30].
  • Detainees were exposed to conditions that can hardly be put into words.
  • He aided and abetted two variations of crimes against humanity according to 7(1) CCAIL: torture and severe deprivation of liberty.

The judges already mentioned mitigating factors and eventually sentenced Al-Gharib to 4 years and 6 months imprisonment and ordered to uphold his arrest warrant [to remain in custody].

Presiding Judge Kerber announced that the oral reasoning was concluded, and she would now ask the defense whether they want to be informed about their remedies and whether she should do a short or long version of that. The defense requested a short version.

One of the translators asked to have a break. Presiding Judge Kerber said that this would only take five minutes maximum and asked the translators to swap.

Presiding Judge Kerber provided the following information regarding remedies to the defense:

The judgement could be appealed [revision] within one week [notice of appeal]. This must be done in either in writing or taken to protocol at the office of the district court in Koblenz or the district court that oversees the defendant’s imprisonment. The notice of appeal must be written in German. A written declaration must be submitted to the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz within the time limit. It is thereby not sufficient to merely have the post stamp within the time-limit. The revision needs to be reasoned. Therefore, a request detailing to which extent the judgment will be appealed must be submitted. A signed letter would be insufficient. Instead the request and reasoning must be taken to protocol by the office of the court. It needs to be signed by an attorney of law or the defense and submitted in writing. This must be done within one month after the judgment was received. Here again, the post stamp would be insufficient to meet the deadline.

Presiding Judge Kerber asked Al-Gharib and his defense whether they requested a more detailed information. Defense counsel Schuster denied.

Judge Kerber asked the prosecutors the same question, they also denied.

Presiding Judge Kerber concluded the trial by finding that Al-Gharib’s imprisonment would continue, complaints against that should be submitted in writing in German language to the OLG Koblenz or the district court in charge of the prison where Al-Gharib is currently imprisoned.

The prosecutors said they would refrain from taking any legal steps against the judgment [appealing].

 

 

The trial against Eyad Al-Gharib at the OLG Koblenz ended at 11:15 am on February 24, 2021.

The next hearing in the trial against Anwar Raslan, will take place on March 10, 2021.

[1]          Throughout this report, [information located in brackets are notes from our trial monitor] and “information placed in quotes are statements made by the witness, judges or counsel.” Note that this report does not purport to be a transcript of the trial; it is merely an unofficial summary of the proceedings. The names of witnesses have been redacted.

[2]          Note from the Trial Monitor: The translations of ranks are based on what has been said in court in German. The German terms are then translated to UK rank, according to the official NATO code.

[3]          Note from the Trial Monitor: Although some evidence [see the diagrams in Trial Report #17, day42] has indicated that there were two distinct agencies supervising the Intelligence services, it can be assumed that both terms (Office of National Security and National Security Council) refer to the same agency which, however, around 2013/14 changed its name. This change of name might have led to the assumption that there were two agencies, causing further confusion as to the role of this agency as a supervising body or organization within the Intelligence Services. While the difference between the two terms in Arabic refers to the word “national”, the translation into German presumably led two a differentiation based on the preposition and the term “office”.

[4]          Note from the Trial Monitor: The judges did not mention “Political Security”. In light of previous testimonies and evidence presented in court, it can be assumed that the judges intended to refer to “Political Security” instead of the “National Security Council” as one of the four main Intelligence Services with Branches in Damascus as well as regional Branches.

 

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