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Anwar Raslan: A Syrian colonel is jailed for life in a first torture trial for the Assad regime


Anwar Raslan, a senior regime official, headed the investigation unit at a infamous Damascus detention heart referred to as Branch 251. On Thursday, he was discovered responsible of all the counts introduced in opposition to him, with the court docket discovering him to be a co-perpetrator in no less than 4,000 instances of torture, 27 murders and two instances of sexual assault.

The judges described the crimes as systematic and a part of decades-long practices by the Assad regime.

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Raslan could also be eligible for parole after 15 years in jail. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, which represented the joint plaintiffs, initially reported that he had been convicted on 30 counts of homicide and 5 instances of sexual violence earlier than revising its numbers.

Raslan’s co-defendant, Eyad al-Gharib, a junior officer who additionally served in the facility, was convicted in February 2021 for aiding and abetting torture and deprivation of liberty as crimes in opposition to humanity. He is serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence.
Raslan is the most senior regime official to be punished for torture, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence believed to have been systematically dedicated by members of Assad’s forces. He defected from the Syrian regime in 2012 and fled the nation, and had denied all the costs in opposition to him.

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‘A victory for the victims’

Joumana Seif, a Syrian lawyer who is a part of the plaintiffs’ authorized staff, was a type of who waited outdoors the courthouse from 6 a.m. to listen to the verdict. “It’s a real recognition of [the survivors’] suffering,” she informed CNN as information of the conviction got here out, her voice faltering with what she described as tears of pleasure. “This will hopefully restore their faith in justice.”

Yasmen Almashan, a Syrian campaigner for the Caesar Families Association, waits outside the courthouse  in Koblenz, western Germany on Thursday.

“[The life sentence] was the least we could have done for them,” stated Yasmen Almashan, gesturing to photographs of her 5 brothers who disappeared in Assad’s jail system. “This is just the first step in a long path to justice.”

“I’m happy because this is a victory for justice,” stated Anwar al-Bounni, a Syrian human rights lawyer and former political prisoner. “I’m happy because it’s a victory for the victims sitting inside [the courtroom]. I’m happy because it’s a victory for the victims in Syria who couldn’t make it here.”

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The landmark ruling comes as the Assad regime — accused of killing a whole bunch of hundreds of civilians with standard and chemical weapons — has been repairing diplomatic ties with former regional foes, similar to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The United States and the European Union have criticized its Arab allies for bringing Assad into the regional fold, however have stated they will do little to cease the rapprochement.

Syrian campaigner Samaa Mahmoud shows a picture of her uncle, Hayan Mahmoud, as she and others wait outside the courthouse in Koblenz, western Germany, on Thursday.

‘Maximum ache’

The court docket in the German city of Koblenz drew on almost 100 testimonies, in keeping with legal professionals representing the plaintiffs. Several survivors of torture at Branch 251 took the stand and got here nose to nose with their alleged persecutor. They supplied detailed accounts of bodily and psychological abuse, in addition to severely overcrowded cells the place they had been disadvantaged of meals, water and medical therapy.

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One unnamed feminine witness described being examined bare, in addition to being crushed at the detention heart. She detailed her encounter with Raslan after having been taken to him together with her garments torn from the assault, saying he ordered her blindfold eliminated, and supplied her espresso. The subsequent day, in keeping with a abstract of her interactions with Raslan by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, she was transferred to a different district and launched.

Co-plaintiff Wassim Mukdad, a Syrian musician dwelling in Berlin, stated he was hit on the soles and heels of his toes and on his knees throughout interrogations. “They knew exactly how to inflict maximum pain,” he informed the court docket.

Raslan (right) gestures in the courtroom in Koblenz, following his sentencing,

In their closing statements, the plaintiffs delivered emotional speeches, praising the court docket and berating Raslan for denying the costs in opposition to him. More than 100,000 persons are believed to have been kidnapped, detained or gone lacking in Syria, the United Nations has stated, and one co-plaintiff criticized the judicial course of for excluding enforced disappearances from the costs.

The co-plaintiff, Hussein Ghrer, recalled that his captors at the detention heart stated he would “disappear behind the sun.” He informed the court docket that to his family members he was like Schrödinger’s cat, showing each alive and lifeless at the similar time. He stated he was “banished from life without actually dying.”

In world first, Germany convicts Syrian regime officer of crimes against humanity

“Regardless of how long [Raslan] will be imprisoned, he will have a clock near him, he will see the sun and know when it rises and when it sets,” Ghrer informed the court docket. “He will have medical care when needed, and he will receive visits from relatives who will know how he is doing, just as he will know how they are doing.”

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Raslan’s trial was seen as the end result of almost a decade of proof collected by activists and legal professionals searching for to carry the Assad regime accountable for alleged warfare crimes and crimes in opposition to humanity.

In the early years of Syria’s uprising-turned-war, which started in 2011, volunteers referred to as “document hunters” smuggled out a whole bunch of hundreds of paperwork from deserted regime amenities. Many stated they braved an onslaught of bullets and rockets to smuggle out papers that served as proof in investigations in opposition to the regime.

In 2013, a defector codenamed Caesar smuggled tens of hundreds of pictures displaying prisoners allegedly tortured to demise in Assad’s jails. The photos had been additionally a part of the proof in the landmark trial.
Attorney Patrick Kroker, center, and co-plaintiffs Wassim Mukdad, left, and Hussein Ghrer, right, answer journalists' questions outside the courtroom in Koblenz, Germany, at the start of the trial in April 2020.

Lawyers and activists have vowed to proceed to pursue the prosecution of former and present regime officers implicated in crimes. In Germany, Raslan and Gharib had been arrested below the precept of common jurisdiction, which supplies a state jurisdiction over crimes in opposition to worldwide regulation even when these didn’t happen inside that state.

The Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), which offered proof to the court docket, welcomed what it described as a “historic conviction” Thursday, saying it was “a critically important measure of justice for the survivors and victims of the Syrian regime.”

“As our investigators continue collecting evidence of Assad’s atrocities and tracking regime officials in Europe, we expect to see more such trials in the near future,” the CIJA assertion stated.

“Our thoughts are with our Syrian colleagues whose selfless clandestine work behind the scenes of the world’s most dangerous conflict continues to feed investigations and prosecutions in Europe.”

The Syrian regime can’t be tried at the International Criminal Court as a result of it is not occasion to it. Syria could possibly be investigated by the ICC if the United Nations Security Council refers it, however Russia and China have blocked a earlier try to take action by the UNSC.

In July 2021, a German prosecutor indicted a Syrian regime physician, Alaa Mousa, who is accused of burning the genitals of no less than one prisoner. His trial begins in Frankfurt this month.

“We all agree that this can only be a first step,” Patrick Kroker, a lawyer with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights representing the joint plaintiffs, stated in a Monday information convention. “There are worldwide arrest warrants nonetheless excellent in opposition to even higher-ranking individuals and we hope and we dem​and that these will probably be pursued.

“There will be no safe haven in the world for these people.”

Correction: This story has been up to date to right the particulars of Anwar Raslan’s sentencing. He could also be eligible for parole after 15 years in jail.


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