A German court convicts a former Syrian official of torture during the uprisings against Assad


A court in the German town of Koblenz found Gharib guilty of detaining at least 30 opposition activists after the start of anti-government demonstrations in 2011. The court said that Gharib sent the protesters to an intelligence center where he knew they would be tortured. Ruslan is still on trial.

Wednesday’s decision was historic: the world’s first court case for state-sponsored torture under the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Since the trial It started in AprilThere were testimonies from torture victims and witnesses, including a guard from Al-Khatib Detention Center, also known as Branch 251.

While Gharib may have been a low-ranking officer, the trial contained evidence of how the highest levels of the Syrian state apparatus used torture and war crimes to suppress mass demonstrations by force.

The court said it had concluded that the Syrian government had carried out a “massive and systematic attack on the civilian population” when widespread street protests caused by the Arab Spring reached Syria.

“It is a milestone, but it is a first step on a very long road to justice,” said Wasim Miqdad, who was arrested in Syria in September 2011 and testified before the court.

He said giving his testimony seemed like the first time he’d tell a story that he felt could make a difference.

Miqdad, one of more than a dozen Syrians standing at the stage, recounted how he was blindfolded and hit with a rifle before he was loaded onto a bus and transported to Branch 251. During a total of 16 days in detention, he lost more than 37 days. A pound or a pound to weight. He said he was crammed into a cell just over 230 feet with 87 others. He described the experience as “hell”.

“Brutal physical and psychological abuse was used to extract confessions, obtain information about the opposition movement, and deter prisoners from further protesting against the government,” the court said in a statement after the verdict.

She said that in Branch 251, he was tortured with electric shocks, beatings, and severe psychological abuse to extract forced confessions. It found that the prisoners were denied adequate food or medical care and were held in inhumane conditions.

Gharib was convicted of arresting protesters following a protest in the Syrian city of Douma and escorting them by bus to Branch 251, despite his knowledge of the widespread violations that occurred there.

“This judgment is against one individual, and I think it was referred to as a relatively small fish,” said Steve Costas, legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative, which represents the Syrian victims who provided evidence at the trial. “But the evidence in the case in order to prove the crime against humanity included showing the role of the entire Syrian government intelligence services in ascending to the highest levels.”

In his closing arguments last week, Gharib’s defense attorney began reading a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., saying he had a dream that humanity learned from crimes in history, according to the European Center for Constitutional Rights and Human Rights. The trial.

The lawyer confirmed that Gharib helped as a witness against the other accused Ruslan, and his behavior after his alleged crimes showed remorse.: He split from Syria and apologized to the victims in a letter.

He also said that Gharib had to follow the orders of his superiors. The evidence presented by the German authorities included documents from the Syrian defector nicknamed “Caesar”. Smuggling thousands of photos of torture victims Outside Syria. But much of the evidence against Gharib was based on his own testimony before the authorities when he applied for asylum in Germany.

In an initial asylum interview in May 2018, he admitted to working with Syrian intelligence but said he witnessed the abuses. In a subsequent interview with the police, he admitted to detaining protesters.

As the defense attorney spoke, Gharib cried before saying he had nothing to add.

Although some were quick to criticize what was seen as a relatively short sentence, the decision still offers Syrian victims a new kind of hope: At times, justice prevails.

“I think this is just one step on the long and arduous road to achieving any justice for Syria and its children,” said Wafa Mustafa, a Syrian activist based in Berlin who works to free detainees in Syria. “My most important hope and most important message is that this is an opportunity for the whole world … to do more than just talk. This is an opportunity to save all the detainees that we can still save.”

While states can usually only prosecute crimes committed on their territory, the case has used the principle of universal jurisdiction, enshrined in German law and which allows for trials abroad for those accused of having committed serious acts such as genocide or war crimes.

“The trial shows that victims can spend their day in court with motivation, perseverance and persistence,” said Belkis Jarrah, assistant director of the International Justice Department at Human Rights Watch.

“During the past 10 months, courageous survivors have given testimonies about the horrific violations committed in the horrific Syrian prison archipelago,” Jarrah said in a statement. “This case not only talks about the role of the two suspects, but also reveals the systematic torture practiced by the Syrian government and the killing of tens of thousands of people.”

Hearings in Raslan’s trial are expected to continue at least until the fall of this year. He is accused of committing crimes that occurred before his defection in 2012. The trial began after a chance meeting in Berlin two years later, when the prominent Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni admitted Brslan at his refugee center as the man who had been arrested in Damascus in 2006 before he served five years in the prison.

Dadush responded from Beirut. Louisa Beck from Berlin also contributed to this story.

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