Anwar R. and Eyad A.
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Syrian intelligence services have reportedly been systematically arresting, torturing and killing opposition activists. In September 2011, the German Federal Public Prosecutor opened a structural investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the governmental institutions.
On 8 June 2018, the German Federal Court of Justice issued an arrest warrant against Hassan, then head of the Air Force Intelligence Service, for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes, upon a request of the German Federal Public Prosecutor. He is accused of having killed, tortured and caused severe physical or mental harm to numerous detainees of the Air Force Intelligence Service between 2011 and 2013, as a direct perpetrator, co-perpetrator or military commander.
On 12 February 2019, German authorities arrested Anwar R. and Eyad A. in Berlin and Rhineland-Palatinate respectively, as a result of person-specific investigations. On the same day, French authorities arrested another former intelligence service official in Paris, Abdulhamid A. The arrests were coordinated by the joint French- German investigative unit.
On 22 October 2019, the German Federal Public Prosecutor formally indicted Anwar R. and Eyad A. before the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz. Anwar R. was charged with complicity in crimes against humanity committed in Syria in 2011-2012. He is further charged with 58 counts of murder as well as crimes of rape and severe sexual harassment. Eyad A. is charged with aiding and abetting crimes against humanity committed in Syria in 2011-2012.
As for the arrest warrant against Jamil Hassan, the former head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Service, the Government of Germany reportedly sent an extradition request to the Government of Lebanon in February 2019 demanding facilitation of his extradition to Germany in accordance with the arrest warrant issued against him in June 2018. Hassan reportedly visited Lebanon to receive medical treatment.
Other person-specific investigations targeted Anwar R. and Eyad A., former members of Al-Khatib Branch, also known as Branch 251, of the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), which is responsible for internal security in the Damascus area. Those investigations resulted in an arrest and a formal indictment.
According to the charges, Anwar R. was head of an investigative unit and its detention center. Between late April 2011 and early September 2012, he implemented and oversaw a brutal system of physical and psychological torture intended to force convictions and gain insight into the opposition movement. At least 4’000 persons were exposed to torture in this detention facility in that period.
Methods of torture included beatings with fists and various objects, inflicting electric shocks, suspending victims from the ceiling by their wrists, sleep deprivation and threatening detainees that their family members would be exposed to torture. The investigation also found at least one case of rape and sexual assault. Moreover, victims were reportedly subjected to inhumane conditions of detention such as overcrowded cells and the withholding of medical attention. At least 58 persons are said to have died as a result of the torture and inhumane conditions.
Eyad A. was an alleged member of a sub-unit of the investigative division tasked with conducting identity checks and arresting demonstrators, deserters and other suspicious persons. He is accused of contributing to the torture and illegal detention of at least 30 persons.
In the autumn of 2011, after an anti-government demonstration in the city of Douma had been violently dispersed by security forces, Eyad A. and other GID officials allegedly pursued and arrested fleeing demonstrators and transported them to the Al- Khatib detention center. According to the charges, Eyad A. had full knowledge of the system of torture and mistreatment that detainees were being subjected to while detained.
On 23 April 2020, the trial against Anwar R. and Eyad A. started at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz. Hearings took place over more than 50 days. Numerous survivors and witnesses of the crimes as well as expert witnesses have testified, including forensic analyst Professor Markus Rothschild, who analyzed the 26’938 photographs provided by the defected military photographer Caesar and confirmed that survivors’ testimonies were largely consistent with his findings.
Several insider witnesses who formerly worked in or with Syrian intelligence agencies also gave their testimony, including an anonymous witness who gave a detailed account on mass burial of deceased detainees of intelligence services. The witness reported about his work in cemeteries in the province of Damascus and his assistance to intelligence officers in transporting and burying the bodies of detainees from detention facilities of intelligence services, including the GIS’s al-Khatib prison and the Saydnaya military prison. Trucks carried several hundred corpses per week. The corpses were marked with numbers and symbols on their foreheads or chests, which corresponds with the images provided by Caesar.
Originally, the Court had refused to make an Arabic translation available to the audience. However, on 18 August 2020, the German Constitution Court granted a preliminary injunction to provide Arabic translation to all accredited journalists following the trial.
On 18 November 2020, the Court severed the trial of Eyad A. and announced it should hear the closing statements in that trial on 17 February 2021, and pronounce the judgment on 24 February 2021. The trial against Anwar R. is expected to continue at least until October 2021.
On 19 November 2020, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in its representation of the seven joint plaintiffs, filed a motion to expand the charges against Anwar R. to include rape and sexual coercion as part of the crime against humanity indictment, as so far sexual and gender-based crimes had only been indicted as single incidents rather than as part of a crime against humanity.