A court in the German city of Koblenz is scheduled to issue its verdict Thursday in the trial of Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian secret police officer accused of crimes against humanity for overseeing torture in a prison near Damascus, Syria, a decade ago.
Victims and human rights activists say they hope the landmark court ruling will be the first step towards justice for the countless Syrians who have suffered human rights abuses at the hands of President Bashar Assad’s government in the country’s long-running conflict.
Speaking this week before the verdict was issued, one of those who testified against Raslan said that whatever the outcome, the court proceedings in Germany would send an important message that those responsible for crimes in Syria can be held to account.
“As a Syrian who suffered a lot, especially after the start of the revolution, (the court showed that) the suffering was not in vain,” said Wassim Mukdad, a torture survivor and plaintiff who, like the accused, now lives in Germany.
Mukdad was among dozens of people who testified against Raslan and a second defendant, Eyad al-Gharib, who was last year convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to four years in prison by the Koblenz state court.
The court concluded that al-Gharib was a member of the unit that detained anti-government protesters and took them to a facility in the Syrian city of Douma, known as Al Khatib, or Branch 251, where they were tortured.
Federal prosecutors allege that Raslan served as the senior officer in charge of the prison and oversaw the “systematic and brutal torture” of more than 4,000 detainees between April 2011 and September 2012, which resulted in the deaths of at least 58 people.
The court heard evidence showing Raslan was involved in the 30 deaths, said Patrick Kroker, a lawyer with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights who represented some of the victims at the trial. Cases of sexual assault were also considered part of the charge, he said.
A key piece of evidence against Raslan are photographs of torture victims allegedly smuggled out of Syria by a former police officer, who goes by the pseudonym Caesar.
Raslan faces life in prison if found guilty. His lawyer asked the court last week to release Raslan and claim that his client has never personally abused anyone and that Raslan defected in late 2012. [ab/uh]