*Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of violence and torture.
German authorities are prosecuting a Syrian doctor accused of committing crimes against humanity during his internship in a number of Syria’s military hospitals in Damascus and Homs between 2011-2012. His internship was just after the eruption of popular protests in mid-March 2011, during which the Assad regime’s security forces arrested tens of thousands of people who demanded the toppling of the incumbent President Assad.
The doctor on trial, named Alaa Moussa (36 years old) has been living in Germany since 2015, and practiced as a doctor there. German authorities arrested him in June 19, 2020 and he had been left in jail until now. His trial began at a Frankfurt court in late January 2022, in the second public prosecution after the trial of a former Syrian officer.
Moussa, known in the German media as “Alaa M.” was arrested after Al-Jazeera and the German Der Spiegel published a report about his atrocities. A number of witnesses were featured in the report narrating clear and outright testimonies against the accused, which prompted the German authorities to detain him.
“The court in Frankfurt has held four hearings in Alaa’s trial until now. The first hearing was on last January 19, the last one was held on February 3,” said Michal Shammas, a board member of the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research and a member of the panel defending prisoners detained over their freedom of expression.
He added to Majalla that “The court has not yet ruled a final verdict on the trial, but it decided it would be made public and attended by media and any people who would like to be present. The decision also included the accusations against Alaa M. who would be tried according to the universal jurisdiction integrated into the German law since 2002.”
Alaa M. is accused of committing atrocities against humanity and participating in torturing more than 19 people, one of whom was tortured to death. In another case of abuse, he is accused of operating on a person without sufficient anesthetic. In addition, he is accused of attempting to deprive opposition detainees of their ability to reproduce. The list of accusations also included soaking the genital of a teenage boy in alcohol and setting him on fire among other torture methods.
In this regard, Shammas said that “Alaa is prosecuted as civilian not a military man. He was a civilian doctor during his internship in military hospitals, where he worked in order to obtain a specialization certificate. In Syria, graduate doctors have to get an internship in military or civilian hospitals.”
He added, “Until now, the trial indicates that this doctor accused of crimes against humanity would receive an aggravated life sentence. This would be harsher than the (sentence of) former Syrian officer Anwar Raslan who was sentenced to life in German prison, because Alaa M. violated the medical oath he took at the beginning of his career, and violated his professional and humanitarian duty. Instead of treating people’s injuries and alleviating their pain, he tortured them and killed some of them.”
Raslan, a former Syrian intelligence officer, was also sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany in early January, on charges of torturing detainees in Branch 251 known as "Al-Khatib". Then, the trial of the accused doctor, Alaa M., followed.
Shammas revealed that; "As for the number of victims of the accused doctor, there are 18 cases of torture in which he participated, including two well-known cases: the first case when he poured alcohol on the penis of a 14-year-old boy and set it on fire. The second case is that he ran over the head of a patient with epilepsy and also gave him a pill that led to his death later, in addition to other cases that will be revealed successively during the court sessions."
"Regarding the issuance of the verdict, in principle, given that there are not many witnesses so far, as was the case in Raslan’s trial, I believe that the verdict will be issued before the end of this year, unless new witnesses appear, which is expected, then the sessions will be extended and the verdict will be delayed. The course of this trial appears different from the trial of Anwar Raslan. While Anwar Raslan responded to the accusations in one session, the accused, Alaa Moussa, from the first session until now, has responded to the charges, and we do not know when the accused will finish responding to the charges against him," he continued.
According to a member of the board of directors of the "Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research", there are nine witnesses and three personal prosecutors in the case of the trial of the Syrian doctor accused of crimes against humanity, and the hearing of their statements will begin when the accused has finished responding to the charges against him, and also after listening to the statements of the investigators from the police officers who conducted preliminary investigations and heard the statements of the accused after his arrest.
Shammas also called on "Syrian women and men who are reluctant to testify to take the initiative to submit their testimonies or contact the Syrian Center to help them," considering that silence about holding criminals accountable encourages them to continue committing crimes, as he put it.
He also stressed; "As workers in the judicial track at the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research, we are continuing our work in prosecuting all war criminals, whether security officials affiliated with the regime or other armed militias", noting that "we do not target dissidents, and we have repeatedly emphasized that we do not pursue dissidents because they are dissidents, but because they committed serious crimes and must be punished for them. We do not intend to pursue these people. It was not our intention in the first place to pursue Anwar Raslan himself, but he led himself to arrest and testifying. The testimony of Iyad al-Gharib is what helped us to arrest him, and there are many dissident officers in Europe, and no one has moved against them. We go after criminals, not dissidents."
As for the trial of other officials accused of war crimes, Shammas revealed that "Another trial will start in May or June, and the accused is Muwafaq Ald who belonged to the organization of the so-called Popular Front, the General Command of Ahmed Jibril, as he was responsible for a security checkpoint at the entrance to Yarmouk camp, and he dealt harshly and violently with the people of the camp. He had previously targeted a civilian gathering of the people at the moment they gathered to receive food aid distributed by UNRWA with a mortar shell, which resulted in the injury and death of 30 people. He is being held in Berlin, and he will also be tried there."
For his part, Shiar Khalil, a Syrian journalist and former detainee of the Assad regime, considered that "The trial of the Syrian doctor is very important, as it reveals that doctors in the Syrian regime were also practicing torture, and therefore this matter did not stop with the officers only, and the evidence is Alaa M. He was killing and torturing detainees instead of treating them, and that is why his trial opens the door for victims who are in Europe to pursue their torturers, and this is a very important matter.”
The journalist who attends the trial sessions of the accused doctor told Majalla that "His trial is a message to the international community that the regime continues to kill and torture detainees, especially since there are hundreds of thousands of detainees in the regime's prisons so far. Therefore, all Syrians should not forget the issue of those prisoners whose pain the political opposition platforms trade with without offering them anything or contributing to their release."
The events that accompanied the trial of the accused doctor indicate that the Assad regime seeks to distort any justice process concerning the Syrians. Its embassy in Berlin intervened in favor of the accused and tried to smuggle him out of German territory, specifically to Syria, to avoid his trial after communication took place between the embassy and Alaa M. In all of this there is more evidence the regime's attempt to sabotage the course of justice and distort the facts. The trial that began in Koblenz, after which Anwar Raslan was sentenced to life imprisonment, and then began to prosecute this doctor at the Frankfurt Court, are simultaneous and must establish a clear legal structure in Europe to prosecute war criminals in Syria who belong to all Syrian groups and sects and who are present in different regions of the country, and this is an essential task that falls on the shoulders of Syrian civil society to achieve justice for all victims of the Syrian war," Shiar Khalil added.
So far, the accused doctor (Alaa M.) denies committing crimes against humanity, however, he acknowledges the existence of torture in the hospitals where he worked, according to what another source mentioned to Majalla, who also stated that the accused admitted the existence of cases of torture in his workplaces in military hospitals in Syria that may later be used as evidence to condemn the Assad regime for committing crimes against humanity.
Although this doctor denied all the charges against him, the German authorities revealed that he was planning to flee to Syria before his arrest with the help of the Syrian embassy in Berlin. This is something that the security authorities relied on to extend his detention for fear of him fleeing again, after they found phone conversations between him and employees of the Assad regime's embassy in the German capital.
About a week before Alaa M.’s trial, a German court issued a life sentence on a former officer in the Syrian intelligence, Anwar Raslan, who admitted in his closing arguments that torture had occurred in Branch 251 known as the “Khatib” branch, which he ran, where he admitted to hearing the voices of torture of detainees after he denied this for a long time. However, he again denied responsibility for these torture operations.
The court drew its verdict from about 100 testimonies, according to lawyers representing the plaintiffs. Several torture survivors stood in the "Khatib" branch, in which Raslan had previously headed the investigation department, and confronted him face to face in a German courtroom.
Raslan defected from the Assad regime in 2013, and then arrived in 2014 to Germany, where he is currently serving a life sentence of life imprisonment without aggravation.