Germany convicts Syrian ex-colonel in historic torture trial

KOBLENZ, GERMANY (AFP) – A German court on Thursday (Jan 13) sentenced a former Syrian colonel to life in jail for crimes against humanity in a historic verdict hailed by victims as a victory for justice, as the first global trial over state-sponsored torture in Syria drew to an end.

Anwar Raslan, 58, was found guilty of overseeing the murder of 27 people and the torture of 4,000 others at the Al-Khatib detention centre in Damascus, also known as “Branch 251”, in 2011 and 2012.

He sought refuge in Germany after deserting the Syrian regime in 2012.

During the trial, more than 80 witnesses testified about what the court in Koblenz called catastrophic conditions in the centre, which had a reputation for being especially brutal.

They took the stand despite “a great fear of the Syrian regime, whether for themselves or for their families”, said presiding judge Anne Kerber. “I owe them my full respect,” she said.

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime had resorted to violence and “the heavy use of munitions” to suppress protests that erupted in March 2011, Judge Kerber said, also stressing that “the Syrian regime is not here in the court”.

Detainees were not only “tortured but also starved and deprived of air” in unsanitary, crowded cells where they could not sit or lie down, she said.

Mr Firas al-Shater, a victim who testified before the courts, said the life sentence was “not comparable to what they did to us, but it is a vote for democracy”.

He said: “For me personally, when I was in prison, my goal was to get out and report what happened there.”

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Another victim, Mr Wassim Mukdad, voiced relief over the verdict. “It sends the signal that torture and crimes that took place in Syria are crimes against humanity and that the perpetrators must pay for them.”

Syrian lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, who had recognised Raslan as the man who threw him in jail when he crossed paths with him at a DIY store in Germany, was overjoyed by the “victory for justice”.

“I am so happy… It’s a victory for Syria and future of Syria,” he said.


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