A former Syrian secret police officer has been convicted by a German court of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago.
Anwar Raslan’s conviction was keenly anticipated by those who suffered abuse or lost relatives at the hands of President Bashar Assad’s government in Syria’s long-running conflict.
The Koblenz state court concluded that the defendant was in charge of interrogations at a facility in the Syrian city of Douma known as Al Khatib, or Branch 251, where suspected opposition protesters were detained. The court sentenced the 58-year-old to life in prison.
His lawyers’ argument that Raslan did not never personally tortured anyone and that he himself defected in late 2012 from the brutal regime could not dissuade the court.
“This day, this verdict is important for all Syrians who have suffered and are still suffering from the Assad regime’s crimes,” said Ruham Hawash, a survivor of Branch 251 who gave evidence at the trial.
Another junior officer, Eyad al-Gharib, was convicted last year of accessory to crimes against humanity and sentenced by the Koblenz court to four-and-a-half years in prison.
Victims and human rights groups have said they hope the verdict in the 19-month trial will be a first step towards justice for countless people who have been unable to file criminal complaints against officials in Syria or before the International Criminal Court.
Since Russia and China have blocked efforts for the UN Security Council to refer cases to The Hague-based tribunal, countries such as Germany that apply the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes will increasingly become the venue for trials like this. Experts say, while encouraging other countries to follow Germany’s lead and actively bolster efforts to prosecute serious crimes in Syria.”
Both men were arrested in Germany in 2019, years after seeking asylum in the country.
Raslan’s lawyers can appeal against the verdict.