For victims, Syrian torture trial is first step towards justice

Syrian torture victims and human rights activists say they hope the verdict of the upcoming landmark trial will be the first step in bringing justice to the countless Syrians who have been abused during the country’s long-running conflict

BERLIN – Syrian torture victims and human rights activists say they hope the verdict of an upcoming landmark trial will serve as justice for the countless Syrians abused by President Bashar al-Assad’s government during the country’s long-running conflict The first step to justice.

A court in the German city of Koblenz is set to rule Thursday against former Syrian secret police Anwar Raslan, accused of overseeing the abuse of detainees at a prison near Damascus a decade ago crimes against humanity.

Regardless of the outcome, Germany’s court proceedings will send an important message that those responsible for crimes in Syria can be held accountable, one of those who testified against Raslan before the sentencing this week.

“As a Syrian who has suffered a lot, especially after the revolution began, (the trials have shown) these sufferings have not been in vain,” said torture survivor and co-plaintiff Wasim Mukdad, who, like the accused, now lives in in Germany.

Mukdad was one of dozens of witnesses who testified against Raslan and the second accused, Eyad al-Gharib, who last year was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 4.5 years in prison by the Koblenz state court.

The court concluded that al-Gharib was part of a unit that detained anti-government protesters and took them to a facility called Al Khatib or Branch 251 in the Syrian city of Douma, where they were tortured.

Federal prosecutors allege that Raslan was the high-ranking official in charge of the prison and oversaw the “systematic and brutal torture” of more than 4,000 inmates between April 2011 and September 2012, resulting in the deaths of at least 58 people.

Patrick Kroker, a lawyer at the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, who represented several survivors at the trial, said the court heard evidence involving Raslan in 30 of the deaths. Incidents of sexual violence were also seen as part of the allegations, he said.

Raslan could face life in prison if convicted. His lawyers last week asked the court to acquit their client, claiming he never tortured anyone personally and defected in late 2012.