German justice sentenced a former Syrian secret services agent to four and a half years in prison on Wednesday in the world’s first trial for crimes committed by the government of President Bashar al-Asad. The Koblenz High Court has found Eyad al-Gharib, a former member of the military intelligence, who is being tried in Germany together with Anwar Raslan, a former secret service commander, whose sentence is expected in the coming months, for complicity in torture.
The sentence against Gharib is the first to be handed down in this process, which creates a precedent for being the first in the world in which members of the Syrian regime are tried for crimes against humanity. The accusation against this former agent was separated from that corresponding to the main defendant, which has accelerated the procedure.RELATED
The 44-year-old convict was accused of complicity in the transport to a prison of prisoners of the Syrian secret service, who were systematically subjected to torture. “The accused is sentenced to four years and six months for complicity in a crime against humanity in the form of torture and deprivation of liberty,” said Judge Anne Kerber.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office, which asked the accused for five and a half years in prison, accused Gharib of having handed over some 30 detainees to the secret services in 2011, who were tortured during their imprisonment. The defense had requested his free acquittal, arguing that the defendant was following orders from his superiors and that, had he refused, he would have been charged with desertion, which is punishable by death. The process in Germany is governed by the principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity.
The case against Gharib was based on hundreds of hours of testimonies from survivors, insiders, deserters, and forensic medical analysis of Caesar’s files50,000 images taken by a military police deserter showing the bodies of at least 7,000 people starving or tortured inside the regime’s detention centers. The files were secretly removed from the country in 2014.
During the process, more than a dozen Syrian men and women took the stand to testify about the egregious abuses they suffered in Al Jatib, known to the Syrian opposition as “hell on earth.” Some testified anonymously for fear of reprisals against their relatives who still remain in the country. They stated that they had been raped, beaten, hung from the ceiling for hours, subjected to electric shocks, deprived of sleep and with their fingernails pulled out by torturers.
“This decision is historic because it condemns the entire criminal system that is the Syrian regime. Gharib is one man, but he was part of an organized machinery with orders to detain peaceful civilians, make them disappear, torture them, kill them and hide their bodies in mass graves, “said Anwar al-Bunni, a witness for the prosecution who was arrested by Raslan and who in Syria worked as a lawyer representing survivors.
Both defendants arrived in Germany in 2014, two years after leaving their country, and registered as asylum seekers a year before German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the borders to refugees. Other refugees identified them as former members of the regime’s secret services, which was followed by complex inquiries by the German prosecutor’s office until formal charges were brought against both of them for torture. They were arrested in 2019, accused by prosecutors of being “cogwheels” of a security apparatus in which torture is carried out on “almost industrial scale.”
Raslan is charged with 58 counts of murder and 4,000 with torture. This is the number of victims estimated to have died or were tortured while the defendant was the military leader of Al Jatib prison in Damascus between April 2011 and September 2012. His trial began on April 23 last year, in which Eyad al-Gharib also sat as a defendant, for allegedly playing a minor role in Damascus as Raslan’s subordinate. If convicted, Raslan faces life in prison.