A German court has sentenced a former Syrian intelligence officer to four-and-a-half years in jail for complicity in crimes against humanity.
Prosecutors in Koblenz successfully argued that Eyad al-Gharib, 44, had helped to arrest protesters in 2011 who were later tortured and murdered. It is the first ever trial over alleged atrocities committed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Another Syrian – Anwar Raslan, 58 – remains on trial. Both fled Syria’s civil war and got asylum in Germany – but were arrested in 2019.
German prosecutors invoked the principle of “universal jurisdiction” for serious crimes to bring the case.
The agency the men worked for played a crucial role in suppressing the peaceful pro-democracy protests that erupted against President Assad’s regime in 2011. Prosecutors argued that the two men were “cogs in the wheel” enabling a vast state torture machine to operate.
Eyad al-Gharib was charged with bringing at least 30 protesters to a notorious Damascus prison to be tortured in 2011, while working for Syria’s most powerful civilian intelligence agency, the General Intelligence Directorate (GID). His defence lawyers argued that he feared punishment for disobedience if he did not carry out orders, and highlighted his willing co-operation with German authorities and assistance in providing evidence against Anwar Raslan.
Al-Gharib says he defected from Mr Assad’s regime to help the opposition and then fled Syria in 2013, arriving in Germany in 2018.
Anwar Raslan is suspected of being involved in the torture of at least 4,000 people in 2011-12. He is charged with 58 counts of murder as well as rape and sexual assault. He is accused of being a high-ranking officer in charge of the GID’s al-Khatib prison in Damascus, known as “Hell On Earth”. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
For some Syrians the trial, which began in April 2020, was a rare chance for justice after countless atrocities. “This trial represents the first step towards justice that the Syrian victims have truly felt,” rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni said from Germany, where he sought asylum. Mr Bunni says he was arrested by Anwar Raslan in Damascus and was shocked later to come face to face with him in a Berlin shop. He assisted prosecutors in preparing the case. “Although this trial is centred on two defendants… it targets the infernal machine of torture and murder [of President Assad’s regime],” he said.
Hours of witness testimony laid bare the mechanics of the Syrian regime’s alleged brutalities. Prosecutors described killing and torture on an “almost industrial scale”, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
In court, witnesses described being beaten and kicked on arrival at the Damascus prison. They spoke of being raped and hung from the ceiling for hours, how torturers tore their fingernails out and gave them electric shocks, then doused them with water.
The evidence included thousands of images leaked by a military defector known as Caesar. Mr Assad’s authoritarian government has repeatedly denied accusations of torturing and forcibly disappearing hundreds of thousands of people.
Germany is investigating dozens of former Syrian officials accused of atrocities.