The world’s first criminal trial over torture in Syria’s prisons has ended with a guilty verdict and life sentence for Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian intelligence officer, and the first high-ranking former Syrian official to face Syrians in open court in a war crimes case, accused of more than 30 counts of murder, 4,000 counts of torture and charges of sexual assault from when he oversaw a notorious prison in Damascus in 2011 and 2012, reports NPR. Wassim Mukdad, a Syrian torture survivor and co-plaintiff who now lives in Germany, said the verdict sends a message of accountability to the Syrian regime after more than 100,000 people were disappeared and thousands were systematically tortured, accelerating in 2011 after a civil uprising against the regime touched off Syria’s war.
The trial is a blueprint for future prosecutions, says Patrick Kroker, a senior legal advisor with the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. However, some members of Germany’s large Syrian community argued that Raslan’s conviction is far from a victory, saying he was too low-level in the Syrian regime while serving officials of the Assad regime to remain free. Most of the Syrian community also lives in Berlin, far away from the court hearing that was largely inaccessible to the community after judges denied audio recordings of the trial, had to be forced by a lawsuit to provide Arabic translations of the German proceeding and provided no transcript. In addition, there was no witness protection, even as the Assad regime was threatening the families of witnesses back home.