German court finds main suspect in first Syria torture trial guilty

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A court in Germany found a Syrian former colonel guilty on charges of state torture on Thursday, and sentenced him to a life term in prison.

Anwar Raslan was found guilty of overseeing the murder of 27 people at the Al-Khatib detention centre in Damascus.

The prosecution of Raslan has taken place under the principle of universal jurisdiction, allowing the prosecution of possible war crimes committed by foreigners in other states.

The trial in the higher regional court in Koblenz in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate is a world first, connecting alleged crimes against humanity with the Syrian state itself.

The 58-year-old former colonel had denied committing torture or giving instructions for others to commit torture.

The crimes against humanity were alleged to have taken place in 2011 and 2012 — during the early stages of the Syrian Civil War.

Raslan was allegedly responsible for the torture of at least 4,000 people in a General Intelligence Service prison in the capital, Damascus. 

The defendant was accused of supervising interrogations including “electric shocks,” beatings with “fists, wires and whips,” rape and sexual abuse, and sleep deprivation.

Prosecutors said Raslan had assigned the interrogators and prison guards to duty in the notorious prison and determined their work procedures. He had also known about the extent of the torture. The mistreatment had served to coerce confessions and obtain information, the prosecution said.

Raslan’s lawyers last week called on the court to to acquit their client, claiming that he never personally tortured anybody, and had defected in late 2012.

The prosecution had demanded life imprisonment, asking the court to rule out any release within the first 15 years because of the severity of the crimes.

Photo – Yasmen Almashan shows a picture of her brothers, who died in Syria, prior to the verdict against a former Syrian secret police officer at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, 13 January 2022. In the world’s first trial on Syrian state torture, Anwar Raslan has been sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, 27 counts of murder and other offenses. This was announced by the Higher Regional Court (OLG) in Koblenz. EPA-EFE/SASCHA STEINBACH

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