A German court has sentenced a Syrian colonel to life in prison for crimes against humanity.
The historic trial, involved Anwar Raslan, 58, who was linked to the torture of over 4,000 people who opposed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war as mass anti-government protests were violently crushed in 2011.
Raslan jailed and tortured thousands of people in a jail known as “Hell on Earth”.
The trial in Koblenz, Germany, is the world’s first criminal case brought over state-led torture in Syria.
On Thursday, January 13, following the conviction, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet called the conviction as a “landmark leap forward” in the pursuit of truth.
Raslan, a high-ranking security service officer, rounded up and detained people who opposed Assad in the Al-Khatib facility in Damascus where, prosecutors say, Raslan directed operations.
He was charged with 58 murders as well as rape and sexual assault, and the torture of at least 4,000 people held there between 2011 and 2012.
Some people who survived Al-Khatib gave evidence during the trial
A criminal court has now formally acknowledged that crimes against humanity were perpetrated by the Assad regime against its own citizens.
one of the survivors
Raslan was arrested in Germany in 2019 having successfully sought asylum there. He denied all the charges against him, saying he had nothing to do with the mistreatment of prisoners and that he actually tried to help some detainees.
The court ruled that Anwar Raslan’s face should not be recognisable in media coverage
His trial came after many of the almost 800,000 Syrians who now live in Germany brought with them terrible stories of what happened to those who opposed the Assad regime, and German human rights lawyers took up their cause, using the principle of universal jurisdiction to bring the case to court. Universal jurisdiction allows serious crimes committed in one country to be tried elsewhere.
The underground detention facility where Rasland operated is a part of “Branch 251” of the General Security Directorate (GSD), one of Syria’s four main intelligence agencies.
It consists of two buildings in central Al-Khatib area of Damascus, according to witnesses and defectors.
Anwar Raslan was alleged to have overseen torture of detainees as head of Branch 251’s investigations section from April 2011, a month after the uprising began against President Assad, until his defection in September 2012.
Syrian journalist Amer Matar, held in April 2011, told the court people were “being tortured without any logic” and that Raslan ripped off his blindfold during one interrogation, swore at him and hit him in the face.
Fifty survivors gave evidence to the court in Koblenz while 24 were co-plaintiffs in the case.
The court heard how detainees were beaten and doused in cold water. Others were raped or hung from the ceiling for hours on end. Torturers tore out their fingernails and administered electric shocks.
One survivor said he could hear the screams of people being tortured every day. Another survivor said that his attackers had used special “tools’ and that they had appeared to enjoy what they were doing.
Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad has indicated that he’s following the trial, but he and his government have repeatedly denied accusations of torturing or forcibly “disappearing” hundreds of thousands of his own citizens.
Wassim Mukdad gave evidence to the trial and returned to the court for the verdict.
“For me, this is the first step in a very long way towards justice,” He told the BBC.
“There are many stories that have not been heard, either because they are still detained now – while we’re talking, they’re suffering torture and horrible situations in the detention centres. Or because they were murdered.”