A German court in Koblenz Thursday sentenced Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian colonel who directed operations at a civil prison in Damascus, to life in prison. This unprecedented trial was the world’s first trial prosecuting state-sponsored torture in Syria. German human rights lawyers argued for the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, allowing crimes committed in one country to be tried in another.
In 2019, Raslan was arrested in Germany after he successfully sought asylum there. In Syria, Raslan headed operations at the Al-Khatib prison, where many protestors and others suspected of opposing the Assad regime in the 2011 mass anti-government protests were held and tortured. He was charged with 58 murders as well as rape and sexual assault and the torture of at least 4,000 people held in Al-Khatib between 2011 and 2012.
Initially, Raslan denied all these charges, claiming that he had no role to play in the mistreatment of prisoners and even attempted to help some detainees. But over 108 days of trial, the German judge heard testimonies from 50 witnesses, survivors of Al-Khatib, about their own experiences of torture and the prison. In addition to witness testimonies, prosecutors also presented the “Caesar files,” gruesome photographs of thousands of dead bodies believed to have died in the detention facility who also appear to have been tortured.
This trial was significant for the thousands of Syrian refugees in Germany, Europe, and those Syrians who are still suffering war crimes under the Assad regime.