Al-Gharib trial in Germany: A problematic case paves road for more trials of defectors in Europe
Enab Baladi – Baraa Khattab
The former Syrian intelligence official, Iyad al-Gharib, was released from German prisons after four and a half years he spent according to a court ruling issued in what is known as the Koblenz trial.
The release brought to light several questions about the impact of this court on the process of litigation for Syrians in Europe and whether it would bring about a change in the issue of detainees in Syrian prisons and asylum seekers who defected from the regime.
The outcome of the trial, issued about two and a half years ago, disappointed some activists who considered that the sentence was light and that al-Gharib deserved a longer prison term because he was part of the security system involved in the arrest and torture of civilians and peaceful demonstrators.
Others believe the ruling is arbitrary because al-Gharib defected from the regime at the beginning of the Syrian revolution and helped detainees during the period he spent in the State Intelligence Branch 40 in Damascus before his defection.
Some Syrians welcomed the ruling, which they described as “fair,” because it constitutes a condemnation of the crimes of the Syrian regime as a whole against detainees, and not just al-Gharib, and because the court observed all fair trial procedures.
On September 19, the Higher Regional Court in the town of Koblenz, southwestern Germany, released al-Gharib, who was arrested in 2019, the same year he obtained asylum in Germany.
The Koblenz Court issued a decision against him on February 24, 2021, to four and a half years in prison (the period is calculated from the date of his arrest).
Regardless of affiliation?
Reaching complete conviction in proving the criminal responsibility of a specific person for a violation in Syria is achieved by approaching the same criminal incident in different ways that must reach the same result.
The reason is that evidence from different sources can ultimately reach the same conclusions and greatly strengthen them for the Public Prosecution Office.
Mohammad al-Abdallah, Director of Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC), told Enab Baladi that fair trials in Europe do not look at the political position, regardless of whether the person is “a supporter of the Syrian revolution or a loyalist of the Syrian regime.”
Trials are conducted according to the evidence, and it is clear that the European judiciary takes both sides, meaning that it includes any person who has committed a violation that falls within the framework of the European judiciary under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, or Universal Human Rights Jurisdiction, regardless of his political position.
Al-Abdallah gives an illustrative example of Dr. Alaa Mousa, who is accused of torturing detainees and burning their genitals while working in one of the Syrian regime’s military hospitals.
The German police arrested Mousa and charged him and Anwar Raslan, a former officer in the Syrian General Intelligence, who was sentenced by a court judge in Germany to life imprisonment, with full costs for those affected.
The position of people on the revolution is not subject to consideration by the European judiciary, mainly in Germany. The person who committed a violation must be held accountable regardless of his political position, and this will have a positive impact on any transitional phase in Syria’s future.
Mohammad al-Abdallah, Director of Syria Justice and Accountability Center
A problematic situation
The Syrian human rights activist residing in America does not believe that al-Gharib’s case will have a direct or immediate impact on the course of transitional justice, but these trials have begun “to consolidate the idea of trying people who committed violations without regard to their position toward the revolution and their political opinion.”
He believes that al-Gharib’s case is somewhat thorny because he voluntarily came to trial as a witness against the accused former intelligence Colonel Anwar Raslan, 57, and his main charge came based on the testimony he gave before the Federal Office of Migration (in the asylum interview) and the Federal Police when he was summoned as a witness in Raslan’s case.
He talked about the incident of shooting at a demonstration that took place in front of the Great Mosque in the city of Douma northeast of Damascus in September or October of 2011, when security personnel belonging to Branch 40 gathered, including al-Gharib, in the presence of the head of the branch, Brig. Gen Hafez Makhlouf, who opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, killing three protesters.
This was one of the problematic points in the trial because other witnesses similar to al-Gharib spoke about what they saw, witnessed, and participated in, and the court did not try them, according to al-Abdallah.
Although al-Gharib did not participate in the shooting, he contributed to the arrest of at least 30 demonstrators, who were taken to Branch 251 (better known as the al-Khatib branch), where they were to be tortured and possibly killed, according to the Public Prosecutor.
The prosecution believes that al-Gharib had an opportunity to defect from intelligence during the demonstration, but he didn’t.
The prosecution relied on al-Gharib’s testimony, during which he confirmed that he was able to hear the cries of torture of detainees even from the cafeteria of the branch, which made the prosecution insist that the accused was aware of what was happening there and yet he handed over 30 peaceful demonstrators.
The Public Prosecutor held al-Gharib responsible for the systematic torture operations against detainees in the al-Khatib Branch during his presence, which was confirmed by international reports and testimonies of prosecutors and experts, including the testimony of the “gravedigger.”
Al-Abdallah added that the litigation process is ongoing and has no limits, “and there will not be a limited number of cases. Whenever a person appears, and evidence is proven that he participated in violations in Syria, he will be brought to trial.”
Iyad al-Gharib’s cousin and his wife’s brother, Mahdi al-Nasser, said in a previous interview with Enab Baladi that the justification for the ruling is not logical because it was not based on witnesses against him or videos and photos proving his involvement. Rather, he was convicted based on his testimony, only part of which was taken because the investigators were unable to prove the other part, as he put it.
Enab Baladi tried to contact al-Gharib after his release, but those close to him said that he did not want to conduct press interviews.
Al-Gharib’s case is a contributing factor
What is the impact on defectors?
“Given that none of the dissidents doubt the integrity of the German judiciary, al-Gharib’s case may constitute a catalyst for bringing the real criminals who are in Europe and whose crimes are documented audio-visually before the same impartial judiciary, for retribution for the crimes they committed against the defenseless Syrian people,” according to Brig—Gen Ibrahim al-Jbawi, who defected from the Syrian regime in 2012.
Al-Jbawi, who applied for asylum in Germany in 2022, believes that when the al-Gharib issue was raised, no one was thinking about defecting because defections completely stopped in mid-2013.
Those who remained after that date, whose hands were not stained with Syrian blood and who chose to remain inside Syria, included some who resigned, some who were referred to retirement, and some who were not trusted by the Syrian regime.
The reason for their decision to remain within regime-controlled areas is due to the marginalization with which the first defectors were treated, the indifference to them and their experiences, and the handing over of the leadership of the factions to civilians, according to al-Jbawi.
The German authorities arrested the two dissident officers, Anwar Raslan and Iyad al-Gharib, during two security operations in the cities of Berlin and Zweibrücken in February 2019, according to what the German newspaper Der Spiegel reported.
In February 2021, the court sentenced al-Gharib to conviction and imprisonment for four and a half years on charges of “crimes against humanity.”
Al-Gharib is considered the lowest-ranking official in the case after the former Intelligence officer Raslan, who was previously accused of incitement to commit torture against detainees, detaining people in 2011, and handing them over to Branch 251 (al-Khatib Branch), where they were later tortured.
On January 13, 2022, according to the AFP, the judge of the Higher Regional Court in the town of Koblenz sentenced Anwar Raslan to conviction and non-aggravated life imprisonment, with full costs for those affected.
Anwar Raslan is accused of 58 murders, at least one rape, and multiple sexual assaults in a Damascus prison where at least 4,000 opposition activists were tortured in 2011 and 2012.
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