Anwar Raslan and Eyad Al-Gharib
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. Other person-specific investigations targeted Raslan and Al-Gharib.
Raslan headed the investigation unit of the al-Khatib branch. Between late April 2011 and early September 2012, he implemented and oversaw a brutal system of physical and psychological torture intended to extract confessions and gain insight into the opposition movement. At least 4’000 persons were exposed to torture in the al-Khatib detention center under Raslan’s direct command. Methods of torture included beatings with fists and various objects, administering electric shocks, suspending victims from the ceiling by their wrists, sleep deprivation and making threats against relatives. Moreover, victims were subjected to inhumane conditions of detention such as overcrowded cells and the withholding of medical attention. At least 58 persons have died as a result of the torture and inhumane conditions.
Al-Gharib was a member of a sub-unit of the investigative division tasked with conducting identity checks and arresting demonstrators, deserters and other suspicious persons. He was indicted for aiding and abetting 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, Al-Gharib and other GIS officials pursued and arrested fleeing demonstrators and transported them to the al- Khatib detention center. According to the charges, Al-Gharib had full knowledge of the system of torture and mistreatment that detainees were being subjected to.
In September 2011, the German Federal Public Prosecutor opened a structural investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian governmental institutions.
On 12 February 2019, German authorities arrested Raslan and Al-Gharib. 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. The arrests were coordinated by the joint French- German investigative unit.
On 22 October 2019, the German Federal Public Prosecutor formally indicted Anwar Raslan and Eyad Al- Gharib before the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz.
On 23 April 2020, the trial against Raslan and Al-Gharib started at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz.
Numerous survivors and witnesses of the crimes, as well as expert witnesses, testified throughout the trial, 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 on 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 detention center 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 Constitutional 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 Al-Gharib and announced it would hear the closing statements in that trial on 17 February 2021.
On 19 November 2020, the ECCHR supported a motion filed by partner lawyers on behalf of the seven joint plaintiffs to expand the charges against Raslan to include rape and sexual coercion as part of the crimes 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.
On 24 February 2021, Al-Gharib was found guilty of aiding and abetting a crime against humanity in 30 cases of torture and aggravated deprivation of liberty and sentenced to four and a half years in prison.
On 17 March 2021 the Court explicitly informed Raslan that cases of sexual violence in the al-Khatib Branch will now be tried as a crime against humanity in the context of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population in Syria.
On 22 July 2021, joint plaintiff representatives and partner lawyers of the ECCHR filed a motion to include enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity in the charges. The court did not grant the request, as it could not confirm that Raslan acted intentionally in this regard.
On 1 July 2021, 23 German and international academics, research institutions and human rights organizations, together with the ECCHR, sent a motion to the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz, Germany, requesting it to produce audio recordings of the last phase of the trial. On 31 August the Court denied the request, as it did not find that the trial was of paramount significance for the contemporary history of the Federal Republic of Germany as required by law.
On 13 January 2022, the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz found Raslan guilty of crimes against humanity in the form of killing, torture, severe deprivation of liberty, rape and sexual assault in conjunction with 27 cases of murder, 25 cases of dangerous bodily harm, aggravated rape, two cases of sexual assault and deprivation of liberty lasting more than one week in 14 cases. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. His lawyers have announced that they will appeal the decision.