The trial got underway in April 2020 and is seen as a world first | Photo: Thomas Frey/dpa/picture-alliance
The trial got underway in April 2020 and is seen as a world first | Photo: Thomas Frey/dpa/picture-alliance

A German court has found a Syrian former army colonel guilty of crimes against humanity, handing him a life sentence. The trial is the first to take place anywhere examining state-sponsored torture in Syrian Civil War.

A court in Germany found a Syrian former colonel guilty on charges of state torture on Thursday, and sentenced him to a life term in prison.

Anwar Raslan was found guilty of overseeing the murder of 27 people at the Al-Khatib detention centre in Damascus.

The prosecution of Raslan has taken place under the principle of universal jurisdiction, allowing the prosecution of possible war crimes committed by foreigners in other states.

The trial in the higher regional court in Koblenz in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate is a world first, connecting alleged crimes against humanity with the Syrian state itself.

What was Raslan accused of?

The 58-year-old former colonel had denied committing torture or giving instructions for others to commit torture.

The crimes against humanity were alleged to have taken place in 2011 and 2012 — during the early stages of the Syrian Civil War.

Raslan was allegedly responsible for the torture of at least 4,000 people in a General Intelligence Service prison in the capital, Damascus. 

The defendant was accused of supervising interrogations including "electric shocks," beatings with "fists, wires and whips," rape and sexual abuse, and sleep deprivation.

Prosecutors said Raslan had assigned the interrogators and prison guards to duty in the notorious prison and determined their work procedures. He had also known about the extent of the torture. The mistreatment had served to coerce confessions and obtain information, the prosecution said.

Demand for life sentence

The prosecution had demanded life imprisonment, asking the court to rule out any release within the first 15 years because of the severity of the crimes.

The trial got underway in April 2020, with two defendants in the dock.

The younger of the two, a Syrian man identified as Eyad A., was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in February last year for aiding and abetting a crime against humanity.

He was found guilty of helping to bring 30 anti-government demonstrators to the al-Khatib torture prison.

Both men — who are considered as belonging to Bashar Assad's regime — were arrested in Germany in 2019 after fleeing Syria.

At the UN Security Council, Russia and China have vetoed attempts by Western powers to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court. The result is that survivors of torture and chemical weapons attacks have been left with limited options to seek justice.

rc/fb (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP, KNA)

First published: January 13, 2022

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