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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

Alleged Assad regime torturers arrested in Germany and France

Three men detained after complaints from Syrian regime prisoners who fled to Germany

A man banner depicting Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in the former rebel stronghold of Douma, outside Damascus. Reuters
A man banner depicting Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in the former rebel stronghold of Douma, outside Damascus. Reuters

Police in Germany and France have detained three former members of Syria’s intelligence service in the first arrests by western authorities of suspected torturers from Bashar Al Assad’s regime.

Germany, which has taken in more than 600,000 Syrian refugees since the outbreak of the conflict in the spring of 2011, has led efforts to collate evidence and launch investigations that could one day trigger war crimes prosecutions against the Syrian leadership for the systematic torture and killing of civilian opponents.

The German Federal Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement on Tuesday saying the arrests took place on Monday in Berlin, in the western German town of Zweibrucken, and in France.

It said Anwar R, 56, was accused of crimes against humanity for taking part in the torture and mistreatment of prisoners in his capacity as a high-ranking member of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate between the end of April 2011 and the start of September 2012.

Eyad A, 42, is suspected of assisting in the killing of two people and in the torture and mistreatment of at least 2,000 people between early July 2011 and mid-January 2012, the office said. Another member of the secret service who has not been named was arrested in France by the Paris prosecutor’s office. The arrests were co-ordinated and the suspects have been remanded in custody.

The arrests are based on criminal complaints and harrowing testimony from former prisoners of the Syrian regime who came to Germany as refugees. Their statements were compiled by the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which called the arrests a milestone.

“This could lead to a criminal trial in Germany, which would be the first trial anywhere in the world examining the responsibility of senior members of the Syrian intelligence agencies of President Bashar Al Assad for crimes of torture,” ECCHR said.

The group’s general secretary, Wolfgang Kaleck, said the witness statements given by six survivors contributed to the arrest warrant and that they would join the case as private parties.

“The arrest shows once again that Germany is taking the fight against impunity for torture in Syria seriously,” Mr Kaleck said. “It sends a very important message to survivors of Assad’s system of torture. Without justice, there will be no lasting peace in Syria.”

The intelligence service played an important role in suppressing the opposition from April 2011 onwards and was tasked with using brutal force to nip the uprising in the bud.

The arrested men are alleged to have belonged to a section of the General Intelligence Directorate that was responsible for security in the Damascus area.

“Anwar R headed the so-called investigation department there which had a prison attached to it,” the federal prosecutor’s office said. “Prisoners underwent brutal and massive torture during their interrogation there. As head of the investigation department Anwar R directed and commanded procedures in the prison and the use of systematic and brutal torture.”

It said Eyad A worked at a checkpoint near Damascus where he apprehended deserters, demonstrators and other suspects. “200 to 300 people were checked a day there. Around 100 were arrested per day, taken to the prison run by Anwar R and tortured.”

Eyad A is also suspected of taking part in raids on people’s homes, and in autumn 2011 pursued demonstrators fleeing from a protest that had been put down violently. He had helped to arrest them and bring them to the prison for interrogation.

So far, all international efforts to launch prosecutions against members of the Assad regime have failed. The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague cannot act because Syria is a not signatory, and China and Russia have vetoed the UN's attempts to allow the ICC or a special tribunal to proceed.

Germany is rigorously applying the principle of universal jurisdiction that allows national prosecutors to pursue people accused of international crimes even if they were committed in another country and neither the accused nor the victims are German nationals.

It is one of only three European countries, along with Sweden and Norway, applying universal jurisdiction over war crimes and was one of the first to incorporate universal jurisdiction — which is enshrined in the ICC’s statute — into its own national criminal code in 2002.

It set up a war crimes unit at the federal prosecutor’s office in 2010 and opened up two general investigations into Syrian human rights abuses and ISIS in 2011.

Testimony from the former torture victims led to the issue of a German arrest warrant for Jamil Hassan, head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence, in June last year. Other high-ranking officials named by victims include National Security Bureau chief Ali Mamlouk and former defence minister Fahd Jasim Al Furayi.

“What has happened in Syria is a case for humanity, not only for Syrians,” Yazan Awad, a former prisoner who was beaten with wooden poles that had nails embedded in them, given electric shocks, hung from the ceiling by his wrists and assaulted with a rifle, told The National in 2017.

“You too are related to our case because you are human.”

Updated: February 13, 2019 09:59 PM

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