The Al-Khatib Trial on State Torture

By Morgane Afnaim

Morgane holds a Master degree in Human Rights and Multi-level Governance from the University of Padova with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa area – with in depth studies on Palestine and Syria –, humanitarian law, and detention matters/rights.

On the 23rd of April 2020 – in the courtroom 128 of the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany – the so-called Al-Khatib Trial, or Koblenz Trial, started. The trial charges are for crimes against humanity allegedly committed on Syrian political oppositors in Al-Khatib, or Branch 251a detention center responsible for Damascus and the surrounding area. Such a proceeding represents a landmark event because the crimes under prosecution are framed in the overall picture of systemic crimes committed by the Assad government since 2011. Thus, besides collecting evidence and knowledge which could be useful in other trials, it also brings to light the broader Syrian repressive apparatus in which the indicted have operated.

The Al-Khatib trial, based on universal jurisdiction and addressing international core crimes, appears to be particularly challenging regarding the issue of evidence gathering and corroborating. Because of its international and political nature and the massive scale of violations under review, the trial requires a great effort on both national and international levels, therefore, it is carried on together with a network of support, meaning through close cooperation between local and international NGOs, local and foreign lawyers, and international organizations. As for now, in the Koblenz courtroom, expert lawyers of the forum state and of the states where crimes occurred, together with international and local NGOs, organizations, institutions and expert ethnologists have cooperated in collecting and verifying evidence as well as putting together a strong case file. They have testified along with a great number of Syrian plaintiffs, victims and witnesses, giving detailed insights about the social power dynamics, the secret services, the military’s role, the detention facilities’ conditions, and torture methods. 

Specifically, the two Syrian officials accused in the Al-Khatib trial are Anwar Raslan and Eyad Al-Gharib. Anwar A allegedly is the head of the Investigation Unit in the General Intelligence Service of Branch 251. He is charged with being a co-perpetrator in 4000 cases of torture, 58 murders, and individual cases of sexual assault and rape in a timespan covering from April 2011 to September 2012. These alleged crimes can be classified as crimes against humanity. So far, many witnesses and plaintiffs have released testimonies against him in the Koblenz courtroom, declaring that, inside Al-Khatib, he was known as Colonel Anwar R and his task was “to gather information in any way possible”. Accused with him is Eyad A who was employed in a subdivision that worked under the Anwar R investigative unit in Branch 251. As in fall 2011 he allegedly arrested protesters and permitted the incarceration and torture of at least 30 detainees, he has been indicted of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity

Upon request of the Federal Prosecutor Office, the court has agreed to separate the trial against Eyad A. Therefore, from the 27th of January, the proceeding is dealing exclusively with Anwar R crimes, which is scheduled to be sentenced in October 2021.On the other hand, the trial on Eyad A was concluded on the 24th of February 2021, when the defendant has been sentenced. The court’s verdict found Eyad A guilty of crimes against humanity, specifically for thirty cases of aiding and abetting torture and aggravated deprivation of liberty and sentenced him to four and a half years in prison. The judge has explained the active intervention of the accused in the arrest and transport of peaceful demonstrators to the detention center, where Eyad A himself stated to have been able to “hear the screams of the tortured all the way in the cafeteria.”

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