Former Syrian colonel, Anwar Raslan is facing life in prison sentence by a German court for committing crimes against humanity at a jail near Damascus a decade ago.
Thursday’s (January 13, 2022) landmark ruling by the state court in Koblenz (a city in Germany) marks the first step towards justice for countless Syrians who suffered abuse at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s government during the years-long war.
In a press release by the court in Koblenz, it noted that: “The prisoner was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, torture, aggravated deprivation of liberty, rape and sexual assault.”
This marks the world’s first criminal case brought over state-led torture in Syria and Raslan, 58, is the highest-ranking former government official to be tried for atrocities committed there.
Prosecutors argued that Raslan supervised the “systematic and brutal torture” of more than 4,000 people at the Al-Khatib prison in the Syrian capital between April 2011 and September 2012, resulting in the deaths of at least 58 people.
Raslan served under al-Assad as mass anti-government protests against his rule were violently crushed.
According to a German investigator who testified at the opening of the trial revealed that Raslan worked for 18 years in the Syrian secret services, where he rose through the ranks to become head of the domestic intelligence investigation service.
Prosecutors say he oversaw rape and sexual abuse, “electric shocks”, beatings with “fists, wires and whips” and “sleep deprivation” at the prison.
Later, he sought refuge in Germany in 2014, after defecting from his post and deserting Syria in 2012, and was arrested in 2019.
Raslan’s lawyers asked the Koblenz court last week to free their client, claiming that he never personally tortured anybody.
Prosecutors secured the trial under Germany’s universal jurisdiction laws, which allow courts to prosecute crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.
The Need for Justice to Prevail
Campaigners welcomed the sentencing, with Human Rights Watch (HRW) calling it a “long-awaited beacon of hope that justice can and will in the end prevail”.
“Germany’s trial against Anwar Raslan is a message to the Syrian authorities that no one is beyond the reach of justice,” according to HRW’s associate international justice director, Balkees Jarrah, in a statement.
“Other countries should follow Germany’s lead, and actively bolster efforts to prosecute serious crimes in Syria,” he added.
A campaigns manager with Amnesty International, Kristyan Benedict, wrote on Twitter: “The Koblenz torture trial is the first of its kind worldwide. It won’t be the last.”
Senior project manager with the Open Society Justice Initiative, Eric Witte, (which supported several witnesses in the case) told the media that the verdict would bring a “measure of justice and solace… for some victims of systematic torture in al-Assad’s Syria.”
“This trial validates … efforts to hold the most senior official to date from the government of al-Assad to account for the torture of over 4,000 people.”Senior project manager with the Open Society Justice Initiative, Eric Witte
Other Similar Cases in the Past
Thursday’s ruling came almost a year after a lower-ranking officer, Eyad al-Gharib was convicted by the Koblenz court of accessory for crimes against humanity.
He was later sentenced to four and a half years in prison.
Comparable to Raslan, he also arrived in Germany as an asylum seeker and was arrested in 2019.
Similar cases have also sprung up in Germany, France and Sweden, as Syrian victims who have sought refuge in Europe turn to the only legal means currently available to them.
In another prominent case in Germany, the trial of a former Syrian doctor charged with crimes against humanity is due to open next week.