Setting precedent, German court convicts man of Syrian state torture

By Jens Albes and Rachel More, dpa

A Syrian man was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on Wednesday by a German court for his role in Syria’s torture regime, the first verdict of its kind worldwide.

Eyad A was convicted of aiding and abetting a crime against humanity by the higher regional court in the city of Koblenz.

The 44-year-old was a member of the General Intelligence Directorate in Syria before fleeing to Germany, where he was arrested in February 2019.

Judges found that the man permitted the torture and deprivation of liberty of at least 30 people, after he brought demonstrators to a Damascus prison in 2011.

At that time, President Bashar al-Assad was cracking down on anti-government protests in the early stages of the Syrian civil war.

Another verdict in the landmark trial is expected in April for the main defendant, identified as Anwar R, who was allegedly a leading official within the same state intelligence agency.

He is accused of torturing at least 4,000 people at the Damascus prison and faces murder charges on 58 counts.

Eyad A was an employee of a subdivision of the General Intelligence Directorate that worked with Anwar R’s investigative unit, according to investigations.

Anwar R and Eyad A were arrested two years ago in Berlin and the western region of Rhineland-Palatinate, respectively.

Koblenz has jurisdiction over the latter and federal prosecutors filed their case there for both men.

The Koblenz trial is based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which was enshrined in the German Code of Crimes against International Law in 2002.

It allows for grave crimes like genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity to be tried in national courts if international courts are not an option.

As head of state, al-Assad has immunity from such proceedings.

However, German federal prosecutors have been gathering evidence on him during the course of their investigations into the Koblenz case.

Activists hope this information could later be used against al-Assad, for example when he is no longer president or if charges are brought against him by the International Criminal Court or a UN special tribunal.

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