France: Life imprisonment in absentia for three Syrian officials

A solidarity stand in Châtelet Square in Paris ahead of the sentencing of Syrian regime officials - May 24, 2024 (Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression/X)

A solidarity stand in Châtelet Square in Paris ahead of the sentencing of Syrian regime officials - May 24, 2024 (Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression/X)


A French court sentenced three Syrian regime officials to life imprisonment in absentia yesterday, Friday, May 24, for complicity in committing crimes against humanity.

The French Criminal Court sentenced former head of the National Security Bureau, Major General Ali Mamlouk, former head of Air Force Intelligence, Jamil Hassan, and former head of the Air Force Intelligence Investigative Branch, Abdul-Salam Mahmoud, to life imprisonment.

The audience in the courtroom applauded the judges upon hearing the verdict, as reported by Reuters.

The public prosecutor at the Criminal Court in Paris called for maintaining the previously issued arrest warrants against the three officials.

“A historic trial”

The case, in which the three regime officials were tried, revolves around the disappearance of two Syrians with French nationality, Mazen al-Dabbagh and his son Patrick, who were arrested by members of the Air Force Intelligence in Damascus in November 2013. Their families received news of their deaths in prison in 2018.

Obaida al-Dabbagh, Mazen’s brother and Patrick’s uncle, said, “I feel very, very emotional. It was a verdict that I was waiting for. It’s a historic trial, and one which will set a legal precedent for future cases,” as reported by Reuters.

Despite the French court’s decision to sentence the defendants to life imprisonment, many have downplayed the importance of this decision as the verdict was in absentia and the officials tried are outside French territory.

However, Bassam al-Ahmad, the executive director of Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), affirmed to Enab Baladi the importance of trying regime officials in France, even in absentia, noting that this verdict sends an important message to all those who committed violations for the Syrian regime that these violations will not be time-barred, and the victims will not remain silent about their rights.

Al-Ahmad, who worked on this case with the International Federation for Human Rights, added to Enab Baladi that the verdict is also a step to highlight the violations committed by the regime against thousands of detainees, through the testimony of several witnesses who were former detainees.

The detainees spoke before the judge about the torture carried out by Bashar al-Assad against prisoners.

Al-Ahmad noted that although this trial was held in absentia, it is considered “one of the historic trials for achieving justice.”

Trial over several days

The trial sessions took place over four days, as observed by Enab Baladi. The first session was on Tuesday, May 21, during which witnesses and experts were summoned, one person testified before the judge, and French expert François Burgat and the author of the book “Operation Caesar,” Garance Le Caisne, also testified.

On the second day, the head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM), Catherine Marchi-Uhel, testified before the court, alongside Véronique Sédès, a police officer from the War Crimes Unit, and another person, in addition to showing ten photos from the Caesar file, which show emaciated detainees’ bodies with signs of torture.

The third day saw the testimony of the victims’ families, Obaida al-Dabbagh and Hanan al-Dabbagh, before the judge, along with the testimony of the Director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, Mazen Darwish, and two other individuals.

The fourth and final day included the victims’ families’ lawyers’ pleadings, the public prosecutor’s demands, and then the judge’s verdict was pronounced.

Previously, arrest warrants were issued for the three officials by the French judiciary on November 5, 2018, but the warrants did not have a tangible effect at the time due to many legal loopholes.



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