Absentia trial begins in France against three Syrian regime officials

Jamil Hassan, Ali Mamlouk and Abdul-Salam Mahmoud (Edited by Enab Baladi)

Jamil Hassan, Ali Mamlouk and Abdul-Salam Mahmoud (Edited by Enab Baladi)


Today, Tuesday, May 21st, France begins the first session of the in-absentia trial against three prominent security officials of the Syrian regime. They are charged with complicity in committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, following the death of French citizens of Syrian descent who were detained by the regime in 2013.

The trial, according to the International Federation for Human Rights (a non-governmental organization), includes three defendants: the former director of the National Security Bureau, Ali Mamlouk; the former director of the Air Force Intelligence Department, Jamil Hassan; and the former director of the investigation branch of the Air Force Intelligence at Mezzeh Military Airport in Damascus, Abdul-Salam Mahmoud.

The case is linked to two victims, Patrick al-Dabbagh and his father Mazen. Patrick was a student at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities in Damascus, while his father was a principal educational advisor at the French School in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Both were arrested in November 2013 by the regime.

Mazen’s son-in-law, who was also arrested at the same time but released two days later, mentioned that the victims were transferred to Mezzeh Military Airport in Damascus. After that, news of them ceased until their deaths were announced in August 2018.

The investigating judges in the indictment stated that “it is sufficiently established that the two men, like thousands detained by Air Force Intelligence, suffered severe torture to the extent that they died from it.”

Moreover, Mazen al-Dabbagh’s wife and daughter were expelled from their home in Damascus, which was seized by the former director of investigations at the Air Force Intelligence branch, Abdul-Salam Mahmoud. The indictment suggests that these actions “are likely to constitute war crimes, extortion, and concealment.”

The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression contributed to providing witnesses and preparing files that paved the way for the trial.

Enab Baladi obtained a copy of the trial schedule, which is set to take place over four days, from this Tuesday to Friday, to pronounce the judgment.

Bassam al-Ahmad, executive director of Syrians for Truth and Justice, who worked on the case with the International Federation for Human Rights and was one of the witnesses in the investigations, described the trial as “significant” as it underscores the principle of justice in Syria, despite being in absentia.

He told Enab Baladi that the court provides an opportunity to educate the French and the world about the atrocities committed in Syrian detention and holding facilities.

The trial occurs during a time when the pace of Arab normalization with the Syrian regime is increasing. However, al-Ahmad sees the need to separate the trial process from normalization with the regime, attributing this to the fact that “the countries that normalized with the regime have their interests, and fundamentally, human rights were not among the factors considered in the normalization by the countries for various considerations.”

Condemning the regime

Anwar al-Bunni, director of the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research and one of the witnesses in the case, believes in the importance of the court as it fully condemns the Syrian regime, meaning that these atrocities and crimes are not being committed by individuals, but by a regime.

He told Enab Baladi that the court’s decision against the three prominent officials will definitely block all attempts aimed at rehabilitating the regime. He considered that “this trial and previous trials in Germany and other European countries prevent any attempts at normalization.”

Due to the absence of the accused, the trial sessions will not feature defense procedures, which means, according to al-Bunni, that “the court will issue its verdict at the end of the sessions, most likely being life imprisonment.”

The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates the number of detainees under the Syrian regime at 136,192 people out of a total of 156,757 detainees in Syria, according to a report by the network last March.

In March, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, under the UN, accused the Syrian regime of continuing to eliminate detainees through torture and mistreatment.

In a report published by the committee during the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council, it was confirmed that there has been “an unprecedented wave of violence” in Syria since 2020.


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