On 24 February, the German Higher Regional Court in the city of Koblenz sentenced a former member of Bashar Al-Assad’s security services was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for the facilitation of civilian torture. The verdict was the first of the 10-year-long civil war in Syria, specifically with regards to crimes against humanity. The court indicated that the accused Eyad A. arrested at least 30 anti-government protesters in the initial stages of the civil war in 2011 and sent them to an intelligence facility with the knowledge of tortures taking place where the detainees were transported.
Steve Kostas, a lawyer of the Open Society Foundation’s Justice Initiative, stated that the verdict is a crucial step forward in establishing accountability for the Al-Assad government’s use of systematic torture against civilians. Over 800,000 Syrians living Germany indicated having been tortured by the Al-Assad regime in government facilities are now hopeful about future trials, after attempts at establishing an international tribunal for the same purpose in Syria failed. The Al-Assad government denies having tortured those arrested and detained.
Lawyers of the sentenced Eyad A. asked for an acquittal during the hearings, on the basis that he was under duress by his superiors when he conducted the arrests in the capital Damascus. In addition, lawyers asked the court for Eyad A. to be considered as a witness in broaders investigations against the Al-Assad government. Anwar Al-Bunni, a Syrian human rights activist, declared that history was made with this verdict and that it gives hope for sped-up efforts to prosecute former members of the Al-Assad government which have fled to Europe.
The court in Koblenz will continue hearing for other Syrian officials, including Anwar R. who is a former intelligence officer accused of 58 murders in a Damascus prison, where it is alleged that over 4,000 activists from the opposition were tortured between 2011 and 2012.