German prosecutors on Thursday (December 2) called for life in prison for a former Syrian intelligence services officer accused of crimes against humanity in the first trial worldwide over state-sponsored torture in Syria.
Anwar Raslan, 58, is accused of overseeing the murder of 58 people and the torture of 4,000 others at Al-Khatib detention centre in Damascus between April 29, 2011, and September 7, 2012.
Prosecutors say he oversaw rape and sexual abuse, “electric shocks”, beatings with “fists, wires and whips” and “sleep deprivation” at the prison.
Raslan sought refuge in Germany after deserting the Syrian regime in 2012.
He was put on trial in April 2020 along with a lower-ranking defendant, Eyad al-Gharib, accused of helping to arrest protesters and deliver them to Al-Khatib.
Al-Gharib was convicted for complicity in crimes against humanity in February, in the first verdict worldwide over torture by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
‘Fists, wires and whips’
Raslan worked for 18 years in the Syrian intelligence services, where he rose through the ranks to become head of the domestic intelligence “investigation” service, according to a German investigator who testified at the trial’s opening.
Since the opening of the trial, more than a dozen Syrian men and women now living across Europe have testified about the abuses they endured at Al-Khatib.
They have reported flogging, electric shocks, cigarette burns and blows to the genitals. Some say they were hung by the wrists, with only the tips of their feet still touching the ground.
Images of the Syrian regime’s brutality that were smuggled out of the country by a former Syrian military photographer, known by the pseudonym “Caesar”, also have been used as evidence in the trial.
Some of Caesar’s photographs, taken from inside al-Assad’s prisons, show the mutilated bodies of prisoners with numbers marked on their foreheads.
To hold the Syrian regime accountable for these crimes and others, the US government passed the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act of 2019, which went into effect in June 2020.
Raslan has repeatedly denied any responsibility for the crimes.
But Wolfgang Kaleck, secretary general of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, which is supporting victims in the proceedings, said Raslan had issued orders in his department.
“We do not believe he played a minor role,” Kaleck said.
Public prosecutor Jasper Klinge said at the opening of the trial that Raslan “knew the extent of the torture” which took place in order to extract “confessions and information about the (Syrian) opposition”.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 60,000 people have been killed under torture or by the terrible conditions in al-Assad’s detention centres.