Germany convicts Syrian in landmark torture trial

KOBLENZ, GERMANY (AFP) – A German court yesterday convicted a former Syrian intelligence service agent for complicity in crimes against humanity, in the first court case worldwide over state-sponsored torture by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Eyad al-Gharib, 44, was found guilty over his role in helping to arrest protesters and deliver them to a detention centre in Damascus in autumn 2011.

“The accused is sentenced to four years and six months for aiding and abetting a crime against humanity in the form of torture and deprivation of liberty,” judge Anne Kerber said.

Gharib hid his face from the cameras with a folder as the verdict was read out, arms folded and wearing a medical mask.

Almost 10 years since the Arab Spring reached Syria on March 15, 2011, the judgement is the first in the world related to the brutal repression of protesters by the regime in Damascus.

Syrian defendant Eyad al-Gharib. PHOTO: AFP

Gharib, a former low-ranking member of the intelligence service, is accused of helping to arrest at least 30 protesters and deliver them to the Al-Khatib detention centre in Damascus after a rally in Duma.

He is the first of two defendants on trial since April 23 to be sentenced by the court in Koblenz, after judges decided to split the proceedings in two.

The second defendant, Anwar Raslan, 58, is accused directly of crimes against humanity, including overseeing the murder of 58 people and the torture of 4,000 others.

Raslan’s trial is expected to last until at least the end of October.

The two men are being tried on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity, including war crimes and genocide, regardless of where they were committed.

Other such cases have also sprung up in Germany, France and Sweden, as Syrians who have sought refuge in Europe turn to the only legal means currently available to them to due to paralysis in the international justice system.

Prosecutors in Koblenz had been seeking five-and-a-half years for Gharib, who defected in 2012 before finally fleeing Syria in February 2013.

After spending time in Turkey and then Greece, Gharib arrived in Germany on April 25, 2018.