Syrian doctor on trial in Germany for crimes against humanity
A Syrian doctor goes on trial in Germany on Wednesday accused of crimes against humanity including torture and murder while working at military hospitals, in the latest European case against loyalists of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Alaa M., 36, who arrived in Germany in 2015 and practised medicine there until his arrest, faces 18 counts of torturing detainees in Homs and Damascus in 2011-12, including setting fire to a teenage boy’s genitals.
He also allegedly administered a lethal injection to a prisoner who resisted being beaten, according to federal prosecutors. Alaa M. denies the charges.
The trial at Frankfurt’s higher regional court comes after another German court last week sentenced a former Syrian colonel to life in jail for overseeing the murder of 27 people and the torture of 4,000 others at a Damascus detention centre a decade ago.
That verdict, hailed by victims as “historic”, marked the culmination of the first trial globally over state-sponsored torture in Syria.
The proceedings in Germany are made possible by the legal principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which allows serious crimes to be prosecuted even if they were committed in a different country.
Other cases involving the Syrian conflict have also sprung up in France, Norway and Austria.
In 2017, Sweden became the first country to convict a former Syrian soldier of a war crime.
German federal prosecutors say Alaa M. worked in military hospital 608 in the Syrian city of Homs and military hospital 601 in the capital Damascus, where injured detainees were brought who had been arrested for opposing Assad.
But instead of being treated, many were tortured “and not infrequently killed” in such hospitals as part of Assad’s brutal repression of the opposition, prosecutors say.
In one case, Alaa M. is accused of pouring flammable liquid on a prisoner’s wounds before setting them on fire and kicking him in the face so hard that three of his teeth had to be replaced.
The former prisoner, Ahmad A., who now lives in Austria, will be one of the prosecution’s main witnesses, according to the weekly Der Spiegel.
Alaa M. is also alleged to have given a fatal injection to an inmate who was trying to fend off a beating, in what prosecutors say was to demonstrate his “absolute power” over the prisoners.
He allegedly doused a teenage boy’s genitals in alcohol before setting them alight, and did the same to an adult prisoner.
On another occasion, Alaa M. was called to a prison in Homs where an inmate was suffering from epilepsy. Prosecutors say the accused punched him in the face, hit him with a plastic pipe and kicked him in the head.
The man died a few days later, shortly after taking a tablet given to him by Alaa M., though the cause of death is unclear.
Other inmates were kicked and beaten, sometimes with medical tools, according to prosecutors.
Alaa M. left Syria in mid-2015, arriving not as a refugee but on a visa for skilled workers.
He worked in several places as an orthopaedic doctor, including in the picturesque spa town of Bad Wildungen, before being arrested in June 2020 after Syrian witnesses came forward.
One former employer told German media they knew nothing of his past in Syria’s military hospitals, and that colleagues described him as someone who was “unremarkable” and “kept to himself”.
The war in Syria has killed close to half a million people since it broke out in 2011, and spurred the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II.
Germany has taken in some 800,000 Syrian refugees.
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