BERLIN – Two former members of the Syrian secret police appeared in court in Germany on Thursday. They were charged with crimes against humanity for their role in a government-run detention center in which a large number of opposition protesters were tortured.
The trial of Anwar R. and Eyad A., whose surnames have not been released due to German data protection regulations, is the first time that two representatives of the Syrian government have been brought to trial abroad for war crimes allegedly committed during the country’s years became civil war.
The men who were arrested in Germany earlier this year will be exposed to testimony from several Syrian refugees who allege that they have been tortured in Al Khatib detention center or branch 251 near Damascus.
The federal prosecutor claims that 57-year-old Anwar R. was responsible for the construction site and thus responsible for crimes against humanity, rape and the murder of at least 58 people. The charge of the German public prosecutor accuses him of complicity in more than 4,000 torture cases.
Eyad A., 43, is accused of being part of a police unit that arrested protesters and took them back to Division 251, where they were subjected to ill-treatment.
At least nine victims of torture are represented as co-plaintiffs in the case, as permitted by German law, and it is expected that several more will be called as witnesses. They are supported by the European Center for Constitution and Human Rights.
Anwar R. could be jailed for life if convicted. Eyad A. could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison if he is convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity.
The accused’s lawyers refused to comment on the trial, which is expected to take several months. The men who left Syria to Germany before their arrest in February 2019 remain in prison.
The process was described as a crucial moment in efforts to bring Syrian officials accused of crimes to justice.
“With other avenues for the judiciary blocked, law enforcement efforts in Europe offer hope to victims of crime in Syria who have nowhere else to go,” said Balkees Jarrah, deputy director of international justice at Human Rights Watch. “The Koblenz trial shows that courts, even thousands of miles from where the atrocities have taken place, can play a vital role in fighting impunity.”
The Koblenz Regional Court, where the trial is taking place, has reduced the number of seats available to reporters and the public by a third due to social distance rules to combat the coronavirus pandemic.