Syrian military members arraigned for war crimes in Germany

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The world’s first trial of a senior member of the Syrian military for war crimes got under way in Germany on Thursday, despite ongoing restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The accused – Anwar Raslan, a former colonel in the Syrian military, and co-defendant Eyad al-Gharib, who allegedly worked under Raslan, had been living in Germany as refugees and were arrested in February last year

Because both are in custody, German law says it is important to proceed with the case quickly in the interests of justice and an efficient legal system, a spokeswoman from the Higher Regional Court in the southwestern German city of Koblenz said.

“The conditions for the trial had to be adapted to current circumstances so that the schedule could be kept,” she said.The trial began on Thursday in Koblenz, with benches carefully spaced out in the press and public galleries.Witnesses, lawyers and translators sat at tables separated by transparent screens.The process started with the indictment, about 100 pages long, being read aloud due to the German legal “principle of orality”, which requires oral evidence to be given live in an open court before the accused and judges

It included stark details of what happened to anti-government, opposition activists after they were brought to Branch 251 of military intelligence in Damascus, where Raslan supervised investigations.Reading testimony from 24 Syrian witnesses, it took two German prosecutors almost an hour to complete a list that repeatedly recounted similar methods of interrogation and torture, including being hung in stress positions from the wrists, being beaten by metal rods and electric cables, as well as electrocution and sexual violence.Detainees were often denied medical treatment and food, and at least 58 people died at Branch 251 during that time.German prosecutors accuse Raslan of complicity in crimes against humanity and allege he was well aware of the torture, inhumane conditions and resulting deaths of anti-government activists at the branch.Besides being in charge of investigations, Raslan’s office was in the same building, they said.Witnesses who were jailed at Branch 251 said they often heard the screams of those being tortured.

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